I’ve found myself recently having lots of conversations about whether “all lives matter.” I want to invite my friends — especially my white friends, and particularly those who genuinely believe and feel that “all lives matter” to examine this from a different viewpoint. Hopefully, it will help them to understand what it is about that phrase that so many folks find offensive.
To make that easier, let’s not talk about race for a minute. We’re gonna swap a letter. Let’s talk about rape.
I know, right? What could that possibly have to do with anything?
Think about the things you know about rape in the United States. We know it happens with some frequency. We know that, while most men would not dream of raping a woman, a few can do an awful lot of damage. And we know that prosecution is rare, convictions are few, and the cost to the victim is almost always higher than the cost to the perpetrator.
So if a group of activists were to march the streets chanting “rape victims matter!” we’d probably respond with a little empathy. Yes, they do — and they get treated abysmally. It’s a shame, and not a good look on our republic or its justice system
What we wouldn’t do is get up in arms about how victims of burglary, and auto theft, and mugging matter too. We know they do. Nobody would think that the protesters were suggesting otherwise. Because we know that within the population “crime victims”, the subgroup “rape victims” has it worse than the rest. So yeah, we want all victims to get justice — but we also understand that rape victims have a few extra bones to pick with that process.
Now let’s imagine for a second that we aren’t that sensitive. And we say to those protesters, “Fraud victims matter!” What message would we be sending them? That the invasion of their bodies, the injustice they receive when reporting, the soul-scalding treatment on the witness stand, and seeing that even if their case is proven, the perpetrator may not be punished — that all this is the equivalent of someone losing money or property to fraud.
In short, we’d be telling them that they don’t matter.
It might not be what we intended — after all, we just wanted to acknowledge our cousin who lost three thousand bucks to those e-mail scammers. But whatever we intended, we’ve clearly told that parade of rape victims and their supporters that we don’t care about how much worse and unjust their experience was — our cousin’s cash is more important to us. That we can’t even acknowledge the horrors they experience unless they allow our cousin’s minor inconvenience to be an equal focus.
Like I said, we’d be telling them that they don’t matter.
Rape victims matter. The miserable way that we handle their cases, and the repeated failure of the system to give them the most basic justice and respect is a problem. It’s a problem that victims of fraud and auto theft don’t face. Yes, those crimes matter. But rape matters too — and as long as we continue to punish the victims rather than the perpetrators, it will matter in a way that is different than auto theft. So we will howl loudly about rape not because victims of other crimes “don’t matter” but because we believe that rape victims’ experience should be brought up to the same level as that of other crime victims.
Can we circle back now?
I’m sure that (at least some of) you mean to affirm that you value all human lives. I’m sure that (at least some of) you don’t mean to negate the reality that a subgroup of citizens has experiences and outcomes that are disproportionately worse than the experiences of literally every other group and subgroup in existence.
Yes, all lives matter. But if we can accept that as a starting point, then the next step is to demand that if all lives matter, then it is inherently wrong to treat some as less valuable than others. When we recognize it’s occurring, the only way for us to show that all lives matter is to insist that the lives that are being treated as less valuable be recognized “at least as much as and to the same degree as every other life.”
Nobody’s asking you to condone auto theft or ignore mugging victims. We’re asking you to recognize that rape outcomes are horrible, and join us in insisting that those outcomes are unacceptable.
We’re not asking you to disavow the value of White, Asian, or Native lives. We’re asking you to recognize that black lives make up 13% of the American population — and 50% of its in-custody deaths. 40% of its homeless. 22% of those who live in poverty. That those things are more than just coincidence.
Nobody’s asking you to say or believe that any other life is without value. We’d just like to be able to all agree that black lives should be treated as though they have at least as much value as other lives.
Can you look at our system and agree that rape victims matter? That they get treated as though they don’t? That we need to do better for them? Can you say that without feeling as though you are somehow cheating arson victims by doing so? Because if you can, then I have confidence that you can also stand up with me and say that #BlackLivesMatter too.