Methodology Racism Social Justice

“All Lives Matter” – The Absolute Worst Whataboutism in the Social Justice Conversation

In his spoken word piece, 20 Years, Christian artist Propaganda movingly paints a picture of a wife (who represents the African American community) in an abusive relationship with her husband (who represents the United States of America). Prop’s piece helpfully highlights the problematic nature of eagerly affirming “All Lives Matter” as a response to the truth that “Black Lives Matter.”

You ask if it was so bad, why didn’t she leave?
As a matter of fact, why is she always playing the victim?
Why is everything about her?
Don’t other wives get hit too?
Don’t all wives matter?

Of course, it’s true that “all wives matter.” But to say, in response to a victim of domestic abuse like the one in Prop’s piece, that “all wives matter,” is to engage in particularly wicked Whataboutism. So also, when someone cries out, laments, or shouts, “Black Lives Matter,” a most unhelpful response is, “All Lives Matter.” Certainly, the saying is true, all lives do matter. But that is part of the point of saying that black lives matter.

Black Lives Matter (Global Network)

To be clear, a difference does exist between the truth that black lives matter, and the movement or organization by that name. According to their website, “The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” We do well in listening to the justice issues addressed by BLM, while at the same time sympathizing with Christians who express concerns about some of the organization’s positions.

We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).

Setting aside difficulties with statements like those above, the reader is nevertheless encouraged to examine the evidence of injustice against black lives in the criminal justice system, the media, and the American culture as a whole to see why it’s often said that “All Lives Matter” is a racially prejudiced exercise in missing the point. Showing partiality based on ‘race’ is a sin. Christians must be very careful not to dismiss, out of hand, half the population of the United States of America when people created in the image of God cry out for justice to be done at the level of government, the media, and in the culture. Do the work. Seek to understand. Guilt is not enough. Getting this right goes a long way toward rectifying actual wrongs. But back to the main point of this post.

Black Lives Matter

Remember the illustration with the woman in the abusive marriage. Her life matters too. That’s not immediately apparent when her husband is beating her, and she’s silenced. That’s not immediately obvious when she is so especially vulnerable and cannot speak out for herself, or, at any rate, faces great obstacles and difficulties in attempting to do so. When someone says that black lives matter, that person means that all lives matter, black lives included. The principle that all lives matter is true, but the practice is not always consistent with the truth of the principle, and that’s the problem.

All lives really do matter. All lives really are equal. Black lives matter just as much as white lives. Black lives really are equal to white lives. Yes, the same goes for the lives of those dressed in blue. But most of all, at least for the purpose of this post, the lives of the unborn matter too.

Baby Lives Matter Too

Our country is not standing by the aforementioned principle. Our country actively seeks to draw attention away from movements that are out to end the evil practice of abortion. When someone says that ‘pro-life’ means valuing the lives of the elderly, immigrants, and the ethical treatment of animals, that person is not technically wrong. Neither is the person who says “all lives matter.” But both are papering over something very serious. In the former case, the lives of over half a million babies per year drop out from the rhetoric of the pro-life movement. Abortion is without question the greatest social justice issue of our time, and the criminal justice system, the media, and American culture as a whole are by and large serving to silence the most vulnerable among us, who cannot speak for themselves at all. What we say, and what we do, and what we focus on, matters.

When evangelicals pilfer from the pro-life label through participation in the rhetoric of rights for everyone but the unborn, whether by way of emphasis or actual exclusion reflected in relative silence or association with pro-abortion organizations, they make it more difficult to bring about change with regard to the way we value and treat the lives of the unborn. Thus distracted by worthwhile but tertiary matters of human dignity, at least in comparison to the overwhelming urgency of ending the widespread practice of the murder of the unborn, we inadvertently – or God forbid intentionally – broadcast that change with regard to the systemic injustice of the annihilation of the unborn is not necessary or even possible. And for that, dear Christian, you and I are held accountable. History will not look upon us favorably, whether with regard to racism, or the unbridled slaughter of our own unborn children. Showing partiality based on ‘race’ is a sin. So is mass murder. God have mercy. Baby lives matter.


He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)



One reply on ““All Lives Matter” – The Absolute Worst Whataboutism in the Social Justice Conversation”

Good piece. As people have a moral intuition that often runs ahead of their reasoning, people develop a political or culture war intuition that elicits a negative response before they given time to careful reflection. In the case of the BLM slogan, I think a lot of conservatives had the sense that there was something off about it and the unreflective response was to find a rhetorical counterpunch: all lives matter.

But if I can take the liberty to play off of Propaganda’s piece that you quoted, the real point of the dispute is in the perceived complex question fallacy: have you stopped beating your wife today?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *