The recent killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner were tragic events that sparked national protests and a collective outrage towards police brutality. This outrage served to further discussions on racism in a supposedly post-racial society. The Twitter hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, began trending to remind us that black people have been deprived of their basic human rights and dignity when confronted with police violence and structural racism. Without fail, people who haven’t experienced this level of “othering” started their own hashtag: #AllLivesMatter.
The #AllLivesMatter response was similar to that of the #NotAllMen hashtag. In May 2014, a gunman went on a killing spree to get “revenge” for the women who didn’t want to have sex with him. It was clear from the gunman’s manifesto that the killings were targeted at women due to his misogynistic view of them. The #YesAllWomen hashtag was started to depict the everyday sexism women face at the hands of men. #NotAllMen responded, saying that “not all men are like” the ones being described by the women in the #YesAllWomen hashtag.
#AllLivesMatter and #NotAllMen are actually harmful to their countermovements, whether they are intended to create this harm, or not. What these hashtags do is refuse to acknowledge that police violence against blacks and gender violence happen far too often, while simultaneously taking the focus off of the perpetrators of these types of violence. It also enables the problems of police and gender violence, while rejecting the notion that “good guys” can allow this to happen. The conversation is then switched from the problem of violence and those that experience it, to the hurt feelings of the “othered” populations.
From the conversations held by #BlackLivesMatter and #YesAllWomen, it is clear that those using the hashtags understand that “all lives matter” and that “not all men are like that.” However, they want to focus their attentions and their energies on the present problems they regularly face, not the hurt feelings of others. By focusing on their individualized problems of police and gender violence, they are speaking out against injustice and discrimination that is otherwise unnoticed and/or unaddressed. Raising awareness about social justice problems is supposed to be uncomfortable because awareness brings a direct challenge to an established way of life. Those who profit from said established way of life would do well to listen to those speaking out, and modify their own behavior so they don’t enable injustice against others.