The Irony of All: A Historical Perspective on Why the "All" in #AllLivesMatter Was Never Intended To Include Blacks

Liberty. Justice. Freedom. Equality. Citizen. Rights. 

America, the nation and those who choose to speak on its behalf, has long displayed a historical tendency of hypocrisy when it comes to its utilization of specific words in the English language. There are a collection of words that, under normal circumstances,  would seem benign in its use, however, when it comes to its practical application in society, terms find themselves taking on vastly different meanings. With recent developments in social unrest in America, one word has found itself thrust into the spotlight as a proposed viable response to calls for equality from a segment of the population.


The "#BlackLivesMatter" movement erupted after the body of Michael Brown was left to rot in the summer sun-beaten streets of Ferguson. A simple hashtag encompassed the feelings of a community that has historically been made to feel insignificant in the eyes of various branches of the justice system. The phrase caught fire and spread to movements across the nation. From Cleveland, to New York City, to Baltimore, the slogan has served as a unifying reminder to those who refuse to view African Americans through the same lens as their counterparts. Shortly after, a new hashtag arose in an attempt to serve as a rebuttal to the assertion that, in the eyes of many, black lives were being devalued. The phrase "All Lives Matter" began to sporadically appear in the conversation and was instantly met with opposition. 

Why the immediate objection to the use of "All Lives Matter" as a viable replacement? It would seem that a term that would promote equality for every breathing body would be received with open arms, however after an evaluation of the historical use of "all" in America, its easy to see how the implication that "all" will ever be considered an inclusive term is taken with a grain of salt.


The standard denotative meaning of "All" is pretty straight forward. It is a term that is intended to be inclusive by nature. The most applicable synonym to the form used in "All Lives Matter" would be "everyone", as in every soul, each person. It implies that if "all" lives do, indeed, matter than each individual part of the sum should feel that they are included in the "all". Herein this assumption lies the the disconnect.

If the proposed "All Lives Matter" is to be offered as a viable alternative to "Black Lives Matter", certain qualifiers must first be met. First, African Americans must feel that they are a part of the whole that is proposed. Second, in order to be a plausible substitute, the term assumes a sense of equity in the value placed on all lives that eliminates the possibility that that any feeling of inconsistencies in the value placed on other lives over there own. Actions on the part of the defendant group must reflect an environment that is able to negate a sense of inequity by the complainant, otherwise reminders are required to reassert that contrary to the status quo, Black Lives Matter. Even a brief historical survey will reveal that since the nations inception, neither of those qualifications have been fully achieved. In every form of the matter, each instance of that application of America's "All" has never been intended to be inclusive of the black population.

Exhibit A: The Foundation
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,  that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
- The United States' Declaration of Independence
Written July 4, 1776

While the founding fathers were busy constructing this masterpiece of a break-up letter with England, the institution of slavery was well underway on the continent. At the same time Thomas Jefferson eloquently and subtly plagiarized John Locke in a Philadelphia proclaiming that that "ALL" men were created equal, he, a slave owner, served as contradiction personified in its purest form.  Of those excluded from the entitlement to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" were women and (surprise) slaves. It's difficult to convince me that one could truly believe that "the Creator" created "ALL" men equally, while at the same time justifying the enslavement of a people by claiming that God sanctioned slavery by establishing two types of people, the masters and the subordinate. It was quite clear that "ALL" in this instance never really meant to include every segment of the population. 

Exhibit B: The Constitution and all of it's ALL's

"ALL persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."


Ratified July 9, 1866

Seventy-five years after the passage of the United States Constitution, and the introduction of a list of ten rights afforded to ALL American citizens, Blacks were still in bondage. The fact that a back door barter that birthed the compromise that slaves would only be  considered as three-fifths of a person was the defining agreement in the signing of the Constitution in 1791, reinforces the notion that there was no intention of including Blacks in America's "ALL". After three-quarters of a century, the powers that be decided to redefine "citizenship" after a slightly symbolic speech by our good friend Honest Abe. That new definition, ironically enough, began with one specific word.


This time around, America's "All" was actually attached to several promises:

  1. ALL persons born in within the confines of American soil would be citizens of these United States.
  2. ALL citizens were entitled to rights that could not be deprived by any State.
  3. ALL citizens of America were entitled to BOTH Due Process and Equal Protection

Three years later, America even managed to double down on its promises of inclusion that declared:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude"
Ratified February 25, 1869

Not only had the nation committed to the lofty promise of granting equal rights to its newly acquired "citizens", it presented a hollow offering to ALL citizens that the right to vote would be afforded to them without fail. On the contrary, history shows that those Constitutional assurances were black hole empty, as the very government that promised unabridged rights that ALL citizens were entitled to sat idly by while state governments and the Judicial branch formed a coalition intent on denying the very rights promised for the next century through Jim Crow segregation, the denial of voting rights despite the 15th Amendment, and any other means of racial oppression. Here the ultimate interpreter of the supreme law of the land reinforced the unspoken truth that ALL was never intended to include everybody. The American value of equality was merely a facade, and once again, blacks were on the short end on the one sided stick.


Exhibit C: The Pledge
"With liberty and justice for ALL"

The Pledge of Allegiance was first penned in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, and has since been altered a total of five times since it's adoption. Virtually every word in the pledge itself has been added, altered, or rearranged in some fashion. The one  exception (aside from "I pledge allegiance") is the closing phrase that reasserts the commitment to "liberty and justice for ALL" . The most famous sentence in American history experienced it's 5th and final rendition adopted in 1954, ironically the same year that a decision on Brown v. Board of Education was rendered. While promises of liberty and justice were being codified and embedded in the minds of Americans, the twenty-two word proclamation mandated to be uniformly recited in classrooms across the country was bring spoken by school aged children in segregated schools, who were products of a government sanctioned institution of segregation. Their "liberty" was wrapped around dreams of the opportunity vote, ride integrated transportation, and eat at the same restaurant as their Caucasian counterparts. Their "justice" was not being arrested or even lynched for protesting for those rights. There was no intention of inclusion in the pledges ALL. If anything, America was fighting tooth and nail to assure that that exclusion was the societal norm.


Look. I understand that, maybe in your mind, it seemed like a good idea to attempt to address inequality by conjuring up this fallacy tied into a three word phrase proclaiming that "All Lives Matter". However,  your attempt of peace making is a feeble effort in the minds of many who have been conditioned by history to be skeptical of the use of "ALL" in America. You have told African Americans for centuries that ALL are created equal, ALL are citizens, ALL can vote, and ALL are entitled to liberty and justice. America's ALL was never intended to be an inclusive term, especially for Black Americans, so don't be surprised if I approach your hashtag with a stern side-eye and pointed responses.