Americans have always valued their own lives above any other—except when their fellow Americans are the "other"
By Arthur Chu
The point is that right now they are not treated as though they matter equally. Some people’s lives are treated as precious, others as disposable garbage. If you really do believe all lives matter, then your focus should be on black lives, which are demonstrably the most neglected lives in our country and, for that matter, the world. Treating a focus on black lives as a “special interest” or parochial concern requires willful ignorance about what kind of world we actually live in.
The charitable interpretation is that #AllLivesMatter folks just aren’t aware of this–they conceive of our justice and law enforcement system as a basically decent system that basically works the way it should where any instances of police brutality or unjust killings are unfortunate exceptions to the rule. They think of activists as just taking a few of those exceptions and singling them out because the victims “happen to be black.”
You can push back on this with statistical evidence—statistics that aren’t new or shocking to anyone, that have been known for years before putting names and faces to them like Mike Brown and Sandra Bland made them go viral. You can point to the obvious signs of a culture of racism, the ever-present context of a racist history in which these events occur. You can demonstrate that you’re not “picking and choosing” victims by signal-boosting just as loudly when a white teenager is killed, demonstrating that it’s not that you don’t care about white victims, but white victims are comparatively rarer.
You keep tweeting and keep marching and keep writing articles and books hoping that you will eventually “raise awareness” enough that the #AllLivesMatter crowd will stop their pointless derailing and actually act like all lives matter.
For some of them, this might work. But I’m coming to think that for many, it doesn’t–because they do not, in fact, believe that all lives matter, and consciously or unconsciously are excluding quite a lot of people from the “all” in that phrase.
Look at President Bush’s invasion of Iraq and President Obama’s withdrawal, both of which are being furiously relitigated at the moment in the run-up to the Republican primaries. Both pro-war and anti-war pundits talk endlessly about the 4,491 American deaths in that war, either arguing that withdrawal “saved more American lives” or caused those Americans who had died to have “died in vain.”
Going totally unmentioned are the more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths (we think, no one has been able to keep accurate count) in that war, the majority of whom were civilians, killed by violence in the war, and the untold more who died from disease or privation. This is a number at least 20 times as high as the number of Americans killed, possibly 40 times as high.
But we treat our people’s deaths as fundamentally more meaningful than theirs. Even the liberal anti-war crowd reflexively talks about “American troops” being killed and “the deaths of American citizens.” Whatever you think of the war, the American troops who died volunteered to go and made the choice to be there, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis–including Iraqi children–died with no choice in the matter at all.
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