Drawing upon her father’s experience as a British-Indian ex-police officer, Jane Dalku explains the harmful consequences of “All Lives Matter”.
The recent murder of George Floyd has conjured one of the largest surges in momentum for racial equality since the civil rights era. But as with all social justice movements, criticism comes with the territory, and the phrase “All Lives Matter” may leave you feeling conflicted, particularly in the context of protestors clashing with the police. Although this sentiment aims to appear inclusive and unbiased, the reality is much more insidious.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is important for all BAME people. Whilst the origin of the movement relates specifically to black liberation from state oppression, it is also responsible for engendering a cultural atmosphere in which racism, in whatever form, is unacceptable.
The phrase “All Lives Matter” implies that BLM exists in opposition to the police. It suggests that BLM is a threat to police lives and that to be pro-BLM you must be anti-police. However, this subtext is a disregard for BAME police lives which would be improved by the movement towards racial equality. This also houses the assumption that racism either doesn’t exist or doesn’t need to be addressed within the police force. Hence, there is a contradiction in being anti-BLM and pro-police. By claiming “All Lives Matter”, what you’re really saying is “non-black police lives matter”.
BAME people make up 6.9% of the British police, and as a British-Indian ex-police officer, my father offered a unique perspective sharing his experiences with racism in the police force from his 30 years of service. My father explains: “I joined the police force as a young man in the early 80s working in Chesterfield which in those days was a very white area.” He adds: “In fact, I think I was the first black police officer they had seen.” Although he was made to feel part of the police family, he says: “On duty, I became much more aware of how widespread racism was. My experiences with overt racism are more around being at football matches and being called “p*ki” by hooligans in the crowd. Hard to deal with when hundreds of people are chanting this at you.” He continues: “One of my earliest memories is during a nightshift in the town centre when a bus drove past us, I was the only black cop there, and the people on it started making monkey noises out of the window.”
Whilst civilians are not as capable of acting on their prejudices as armed police, racist abuse that BAME police officers experience is symptomatic of the same institutional bias that BLM is fighting to end.
Although, to his knowledge, racism never prevented my father from moving up in the police force, it still impacted and at times hindered his work: “There were times when you just knew someone wasn’t going to confess to you because you’re black,” he says, “for certain people, if you’re not better than a black person, you’re nothing.”
Racism takes a covert form when shouting “paki” or making monkey noises is no longer deemed socially acceptable. We can see parallels with the argument that “all lives matter”, where tirelessly undermining the fight for racial equality replaces overt racism. My father explains: “Racists are now much more covert about their true feelings and whilst their numbers have decreased, they have not all gone away, and it doesn’t take much to bring this to the surface.”
Saying “All Lives Matter” subtly disregards existing racial inequality in our society by implying “we’re all already the same”. Seems liberal, right? This confuses the message behind BLM, making it seem as if Black Lives Matter means only black lives matter or that black lives can only matter at the expense of other lives. This is not to say that everyone conflicted by this idea is consciously racist, but the narrative itself plays on pre-existing, unconscious racial bias by attempting to make BLM synonymous with rioting and lawlessness. This feels ironic considering the conservative backlash faced by Colin Kaepernick for peacefully kneeling during the national anthem.
There is endless footage online of US police violently escalating peaceful BLM protests, yet the anti-riot argument is only being used to attack BLM. If in the midst of this horrendous conflict your pacifist sympathies naturally lean towards the side armed with riot gear, rubber bullets and tear gas, you are not neutral.
In essence, the moral high ground that the words “All Lives Matter” may seem to occupy, does not exist. This narrative brings hidden racial bias to the surface and aims to pervert the meaning behind Black Lives Matter. During an international human rights movement that demands equality, the only thing “All Lives Matter” unites is the belief some lives matter more than others.