Why "all lives matter" communicates to Black people that their lives don't

Christina Capatides

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks have not only served to reignite the Black Lives Matter movement, but also the furor at its most common rebuttal: "all lives matter."

The back and forth has been going on for seven years, and just last week, when pressed repeatedly on his refusal to say "Black lives matter," Vice President Mike Pence echoed those words on "Face The Nation": "I really believe all lives matter."

While some purposely say "all lives matter" to provoke conflict, others see it as a harmless, even inclusive remark. But that isn't the way most Black people experience it.

"My life matters," said Jason Reynolds, author of "All American Boys." "And if you say, 'No, all lives matter,' what I would say is I believe that you believe all lives matter. But because I live the life that I live, I am certain that in this country, all lives [don't] matter. I know for a fact that, based on the numbers, my life hasn't mattered; that black women's lives definitely haven't mattered, that black trans people's lives haven't mattered, that black gay people's lives haven't mattered... that immigrants' lives don't matter, that Muslims' lives don't matter. The Indigenous people of this country's lives have never mattered. I mean, we could go on and on and on. So, when we say 'all lives,' are we talking about White lives? And if so, then let's just say that. 'Cause it's coded language."

Some members of the Black community emphasized to CBS News that the phrase "Black Lives Matter" does not mean "Black lives matter more." It means, "Black lives matter, as well." And some of the hurtful confusion could very well stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of that.

For lifestyle blogger Ayana Lage, whether the phrase is posted with ill intentions or good ones, the effect is the same. It derails the conversation.

"It's the same as when people bring up 'black-on-black crime' when you are discussing police brutality, or say 'well, why don't you care about Chicago?' Literally anytime that I mention anything about Black Lives Matter or police reform, I get comments about 'well, what about the looters.' And I'm kind of like, well that's not what we're talking about," she told CBS News. "The talking points are almost all the same when you're having conversations with people: black-on-black crime, Chicago, I don't see color, you want to be a victim, all lives matter. I mean, you just hear the same things from people and you just start to think, 'Man, maybe some people are committed to misunderstanding what we're trying to do here.'"

"No one's saying that your life doesn't matter," Lage continued. "What we're saying… is all lives can't matter until black lives matter."

"When [all lives matter] first became a hashtag, it felt like such a knee-jerk response to something that was not understood. It almost heightened the Black Lives Matter movement in a way because it was like, so you really don't get it," said fitness influencer Bryce Michael Wood, who hosts the Zoom series, "For Your Discomfort." "Like, how is that your response to me saying 'Black Lives Matter?' Because before Black Lives Matter, before that movement, no one was saying 'all lives matter.' No one felt the need to position themselves that way."

Sonya Renee Taylor, author and founder of "The Body Is Not an Apology," likens it to your wife asking you if she's pretty and you responding "all people are pretty."

"It's probably not going to go over very well in your family, right?" said Taylor. "Your wife is probably going to have a problem with that. Because what she wants in that moment is specificity. You know, what's desired in that moment is to be seen in her unique experience with you. And that's what Black people are asking for right now: to be seen in our unique experience in the world. To actually be seen and valued."

Scientists say coronavirus can be spread farther than 6 feet in tiny airborne particles

How camera recordings of racist incidents are fueling calls for equality and justice

Companies will focus on social distancing as they begin bringing employees back to the office