Between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter

Earlier today, we posted an image applying a quote from Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium to the current discussion about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, under the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

We got some replies that suggested a better hashtag would have been #AllLivesMatter. If you search that hashtag, you’ll find that there are similar discussions going on all over social media.

So, full disclosure: I helped write that tweet. When composing it, I briefly thought about something like “#BlackLivesMatter because #AllLivesMatter.” I thought about it — but realized that it was both terribly patronizing and completely missing the point, so that’s not what I settled on.

To be honest, it bothers me that I wanted to write that, even briefly, although spending a bit of time on it helped me see what was really behind it, at least for me. The part of me that wanted to write #AllLivesMatter was basically saying: “I will acknowledge your concern for the marginalized and offer you back vague sentiments about universal justice with which I already feel comfortable.”

The reason #BlackLivesMatter matters as a hashtag is because in reality, all too often, black lives haven’t. #AllLivesMatter calls our attention to the principle, with which we already agree, rather than to the problem. But #BlackLivesMatter challenges us to conversion. It confronts us with our failure rather than congratulating on us on having good motives. Yes, of course, everyone matters. But in practice, some lives have mattered less. Real conversion makes us leave the comfort zone of platitudes that make everyone feel nice — it calls us to the fringes, where we’re least comfortable.

One way to illustrate this is by reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus wasn’t about to let the scholars of the law off with getting the principle right; he wanted to challenge them to conversion:

#AllLivesMatter is the answer that is expected by the scholar of the law, wishing to justify himself, who asks Jesus “And who is my neighbor?”

#BlackLivesMatter is Jesus answering him with the parable, closing with “Which of these was neighbor to this man?”

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