Yes, all lives matter – and deeper problems with intersectionality

Given the recent spate of violence against cops, particularly the Dallas shooting wherein white cops were targeted in a racist attack, there has been more discussion about Black Lives Matter, and how much responsibility they bear for this kind of violence. Obviously, the movement itself does not officially condone violence (insofar as any widespread movement can ‘officially’ do anything – these kinds of popular movements do not have the kind of official hierarchy that would allow for an official stance in the technical sense).

First, in terms of responsibility for the attacks, they likely bear as much responsibility has the right-wing politicians do for the Planned Parenthood attacks. But that is not the issue which I wish to discuss here. Rather, I want to discuss something else: the reactions that many left-wingers have to the response that ‘All Lives Matter.’

I recall that last year at NetRoots, a group of BLM protesters interrupted Gov. O’Malley as he was speaking, being incredibly rude and disruptive. Quite frankly, anyone being rude and disruptive in this manner should have been thrown out immediately, regardless of what they were protesting. However, O’Malley was very polite in response, agreed with them, and said, ‘Yes, of course, all lives matter,’ or something along those lines. This outraged the protestors. In defense of their outrage, one article argued that O’Malley’s response was like going to an event supporting a cure for breast cancer and saying ‘all cancers matter. To which there are two points:

  1. Is that really so bad? If I were speaking to a group of people interested in curing breast cancer, saying how bad cancer is in general doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
  2. And no, it is not like that. This was not a BLM event that O’Malley went to. He was a candidate for president speaking at a general political event, which deals with many problems, not just the problems upon which BLM wishes to focus.

A better analogy could have been made. Black Lives Matter is concerned with unwarranted violence against black people by the police. But this is not a fundamental problem; it is a symptom of two underlying problems. Those are 1. police who are willing to use unwarranted violence, and 2. racism among police. It is fine to focus on this particular symptom, namely the resulting violence against black people, but nobody should be offended when someone (including a politician like O’Malley) chooses to focus on these fundamental issues rather than on this one symptom.

So a better analogy, again using cancer: Suppose that a breast cancer support group goes to a pharmaceutical research company and asks them to research cures for breast cancer. Is it somehow horrible if the company responds with ‘Of course. We research cures for all kinds of cancer, because all cancer is bad?’ Certainly that is an appropriate response. There’s nothing wrong with a pharma company focusing on breast cancer, but there’s also nothing wrong with them researching cures for other kinds of cancer, either. In fact, if they were to find a cure for cancer in general, that would also solve the breast cancer problem.

Likewise, when someone says ‘black lives matter,’ and a person such as myself or O’Malley responds that all lives matter, we are saying the same thing, and it is ridiculous that anyone should be offended by this – especially when it is at a political event that is designed to deal with all the problems facing the country today, and not at a specialized rally for one special issue. Or more to the point: I do not care if anyone is offended by this response. I don’t want people harmed by unwarranted police violence, and I won’t pretend this is a uniquely black problem, even if it can be shown that it is worse for black people due to the problem of racism among cops (this is debatable, at least when it comes to fatal force: the NYT recently noted a study which showed that fatal force does not have a racial bias in policing, although other types of force do – but I have already been told by one SJW to stop citing this study, presumably since it doesn’t agree with their narrative). If we could end unwarranted fatal force in policing, we would have, in the process, solved the problem upon which BLM focuses. Ironically, if we could end racism, we would not ipso facto solve the problem upon which BLM focuses, since unwarranted force among police would still affect everyone. And if BLM fully succeeded, we would still have the problem of non-blacks facing unwarranted force from police (like the white man tortured to death in handcuffs by police, who then celebrated that their jobs were safe: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/georgia-cops-high-five-tasing-psychotic-man-death-video-article-1.2644038).

More generally, intersectionality has this problem of treating anyone who does not focus on the specific problems ‘in the intersection’ as though they are terrible people. Granted, when there are problems faced by group A and by group B, then those in the intersection A∩B will face all these problems, plus perhaps some problems that are unique to the group A∩B. But there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the problems of group A, without singling out A∩B for special attention. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the problems of A-B (those members of A that are not in A∩B) either. And there is nothing wrong with focusing on A∩B’s specific problems – however, it should be noted that often those problems are mere symptoms of the fundamental issues faced by groups A and B separately, and hence dealing with those fundamental problems is arguably more important. What is wrong is claiming that unless a person focuses ‘on the intersection,’ that they are somehow racist/misogynist/other -ist. And what is also wrong is pretending that solving the problems of A and the problems of B would not solve most of the problems of A∩B.

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