What’s the Matter with All Lives Matter?
By: Khalil Abdur-Rashid
When former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani stated on Fox News that Black Lives Matter is inherently racist, and a local Dallas mosque publicly advertised All Lives Matter on the billboard outside of the mosque, and the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump expressed his support for the All Lives Matter agenda, then it became necessary to clarify just exactly what is the matter with All Lives Matter. Race relations in this country are in serious need of acknowledgment of the wrong that has been done and of the making of a concerted effort to repair it from the federal level down to the local level. All Lives Matter is an active attempt to negate both the repair and acknowledgment of something having gone wrong in the past and something being wrong in the present.
In critiquing this response to the Black Lives Matter movement, we must first understand that the All Lives Matter slogan is a reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement by the wealthy, White American power establishment who are part of and have inherited the making of American history, its empire, and its consciousness. It is a response that says that the White American power establishment has no interest in the politics and voice of the oppressed. It is a reminder that those on the minority side of the race relations struggle have not been granted permission to speak out against their oppression nor have they been granted any authority to narrate or complain on behalf of their own plight. And until such permission has been granted, their lives (and therefore their liberty and the pursuit of happiness) is only contingently, not absolutely, granted. Black Lives must be amalgamated into White Lives in order for it to have value – as former New York City Mayor Giuliani himself let slip in the Fox News interview, “white lives, black lives, all lives matter”.
You see, for Mayor Giuliani, Fox News, Mr. Trump and other mouthpieces of the institutions of the White American power establishment, Black lives have no inherent value independent of the value granted to it by their establishments and their rules. Any attempt to assert autonomy is labeled as being racist and therefore a transgression against the establishment, for by what right shall you claim an “I” independent of “Them”. It resembles in Arabic grammar the dichotomy between the meaning of a noun (ism) and the meaning of a particle (harf). The ism possesses a meaning that is independent of time and independent of other nouns. The harf, however possesses no independent meaning. Its meaning is granted to it when it is juxtaposed with an ism. Only then may it assume an identity and meaning. The harf dares not to assume any identity separate of that assigned to it on account of its being in proximity to the ism. It is therefore entirely dependent on the ism for any value and meaning. All Lives Matter is essentially reminding the Black Lives Matter movement of this harfi condition. Black Lives Matter is a movement claiming an ismi meaning. When Blacks are killed on the streets, slaughtered worse than animals, their meaning is harfi; mass incarceration of blacks reminds them again that their value and meaning is harfi; homelessness and economic exploitation further echoes harfi meaning.
Black Lives Matter is a protest against this political condition and an affirmation of a value independent of the artificial value which has been assigned.
Secondly, All Lives Matter mutes all voices not a part of the White American power establishment. It answers the question that is not posed but inherently thought of to the White American power establishment mind: can and should Blacks and oppressed people speak? The answer, according to them, is a resounding no! Blacks cannot and should not speak because they haven’t any claim of representation beyond what the criminal justice system, the political ruling class, and the entertainment system assign to them. All Lives Matter completely preempts any and all claims to narrate and represent autonomously.
To this effect, the claim that All Lives Matters is more universally appealing and more Islamic is misleading and reflects naivety on the part of the one who believes this. We have seen even some African Americans and some Muslims affirm this position. But keep in mind that there are two things must be understood: the first is that the interlocutor of the Black Lives Matter movement is the elite White American power establishment who seek to maintain the status quo of granting second class status to people of color in this country through policies and systems that, at worst prevent and best restrict, upward economic mobility. Secondly, the term ‘Black’ in Black Lives Matter represents both race and a political condition. The silencing of this race and its political condition is the silencing of all others similar to it. But some have not been able to see it this way, not on account of the Black Lives Matter movement and its message but instead on account of a misreading of the plight of people of color and minorities due to a change in their own circumstances and position – called parallax.
This parallax of some in the Black community and some in the Muslim community is intellectually paralyzing, retarding much needed social and institutional progress towards greater equality for all in this country. What many Muslims of various backgrounds fail to see is that Brown has become the new Black. But because of the comforts of our life and our desire to live like the elite White American power establishment, our perception and empathy with the plight of oppressed black and brown people is blinded by the colonizing effect of middle and upper-middle class complacency. The relaxing and subsequent parallaxing of the some black and Muslim minds is the new colonial effect which no longer requires you to be in India, Algeria or Indonesia to be colonized. The suburbs of north Dallas will do just fine. The Black Lives Matter movement is a wake up call to this parallax and to the All Lives Matter ideology that is the transmutation of Malcolm X’s house negro, Edward Said’s exilic intellectual, and Hamid Dabbashi’s house Muslim. All Lives Matter extinguishes the fire and fighting instinct – the burning urgency for immediate change felt by people sitting on a stove, as articulated by Malcolm X.
“You are not going to get something detached and disinterested from anybody who is sitting on the stove and the stove is burning their behind, no, they’re going to holler out, they are going to respond deeply and viscerally.”
The families who have lost loved ones to police violence are sitting on the stove burning. Communities that are struck by police brutality are sitting on the stove burning. All Lives Matter wants you to forget those people that are sitting on the stove and tell you that it’s okay because everyone has a stove – but the problem is that everyone is not getting burned by their own stove. Mass incarceration; insufficient health care; inadequate or no housing – are all forms of Black folks sitting on the stove getting burned. And this predicament of sitting on the stove began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow, matured with the KKK, and has now morphed into a criminal justice system and a political condition that preys on Blacks. This situation is catastrophic. All Lives Matter subjugates you by domesticating you and anesthetizing your pain. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still sitting on the stove and your behind is burning.
This parallax of some in the Black community and some in the Muslim community is intellectually paralyzing, retarding much needed social and institutional progress towards greater equality for all in this country. What many Muslims of various backgrounds fail to see is that Brown has become the new Black. But because of the comforts of our life and our desire to live like the elite White American power establishment, our perception and empathy with the plight of oppressed black and brown people is blinded by the colonizing effect of middle and upper-middle class complacency. The relaxing and subsequent parallaxing of the some black and Muslim minds is the new colonial effect which no longer requires you to be in India, Algeria or Indonesia to be colonized.
The suburbs of north Dallas will do just fine. The Black Lives Matter movement is a wake-up call to this parallax and to the All Lives Matter ideology that is the transmutation of Malcolm X’s house negro, Edward Said’s exilic intellectual, and Hamid Dabbashi’s house Muslim. All Lives Matter extinguishes the fire and fighting instinct – the burning urgency for immediate change felt by people sitting on a stove, as articulated by Malcolm X. “You are not going to get something detached and disinterested from anybody who is sitting on the stove and the stove is burning their behind, no, they’re going to holler out, they are going to respond deeply and viscerally.” The families who have lost loved ones to police violence are sitting on the stove burning. Communities that are struck by police brutality are sitting on the stove burning. All Lives Matter wants you to forget those people that are sitting on the stove and tell you that it’s okay because everyone has a stove – but the problem is that everyone is not getting burned by their own stove. Mass incarceration; insufficient health care; inadequate or no housing – are all forms of Black folks sitting on the stove getting burned. And this predicament of sitting on the stove began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow, matured with the KKK, and has now morphed into a criminal justice system and a political condition that preys on Blacks. This situation is catastrophic. All Lives Matter subjugates you by domesticating you and anesthetizing your pain. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still sitting on the stove and your behind is burning.
The third critique of the All Lives Matter slogan is that it is beholden to gradualism. All Lives Matter is simply gradualism disguised as justice and equality. It’s the alternative to doing something now by giving inertia to false hope in non-existent means. In the Quranic sense, it is a type of gharur. Paul Robison eloquently stated that “Some of our best friends are enemies and gradualism is but a mask of one of their double faces. My old master promised me, when he died he’d set me free. He lived so long that his head got bald, and he gave up the notion of dying at all.” The idea that progress for rights and justice must be slowed down is derived from the notion that democratic rights are reserved only for those in power. Frederick Douglas said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will”.
Thomas Jefferson, who we know owned a copy of the translation of the Quran and read it, placed life before liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For Blacks, there is a dire need to address the issue of personal security before anything else. For if life is truly sanctified and protected, so too will all other aspects related to the intellect (goodbye to alcohol and drugs and hello increased college enrollment), to family (goodbye to single parent homes and hello to stable families), to wealth (hello to jobs and economic equality), and to honor & dignity (the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration becomes economically bankrupt morally indefensible, practically unnecessary).
Fourthly, All Lives Matter is an ideological weapon of mass destruction of American empire unleashed at home. It doesn’t want its victims to be visible nor let suffering to be placed on the agenda of those who hold power. It claims universalism while simultaneously demonstrates the fallacy of American exceptionalism. If All Lives Matter truly, then why are you still killing Black lives? All lives obviously don’t matter no matter how much you want us to believe it by saying it. To be Black in this country is to either be arrest-ready or coffin (or kafn) -ready. The political position that Black are in affects both Black men and Black women. For Black men, undoubtedly the single most pressing issue is death by the justice system, either by being killed by a police officer or by being incarcerated causing the death of their freedom. The criminal justice system already relegates millions to second-class status, despite the claim that in the Obama age color blindness prevails.
Harsh sentencing is the primary cause for the explosion of the prison population. There are 3 million people incarcerated in this country, making it the first among countries with high incarceration rates. Our country even surpasses Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and China. It also ranks number one in the world for incarceration of its ethnic and racial minority groups. Consider the following data from Michelle Alexander, “In Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African-American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. These young men are part of a growing under caste, permanently locked up and locked out of mainstream society…One in three African American men will serve time in prison if current trends continue, and in some cities more than half of all young adult black men are currently under correctional control – in prison or jail, or probation or parole. Yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issues as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).”. Couple this with the crisis of Black men dying at the hands of police officers as well as black on black crime in the inner city and then ask if the call Black Lives Matter is racist and the response All Lives Matter is the solution?
As for Black women, they are not only affected by the crisis of the systematic and systemic elimination of Black men, but they are further under assault through the systematic misuse and abuse of their bodies by the medical industry and social service, governmental agencies. In short, an all-out assault on motherhood is actively taking place in the Black communities but is entirely veiled on account of the crisis of the assault on Black men. Black women’s reproductive rights have been under constant control on account of their being stigmatized as perpetuating the reproduction of degenerates. The most sinister manifestation of this appeared in the “racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women during the 1960’s and 1970’s to the current campaign (in the late 90’s) to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers.” The practice of modern eugenics and sterilization is common today among both the Black and Hispanic poor populations in the forms of programs to sterilize drug addicts in inner cities, prenatal screenings, and Norplant injections for birth control.
There is a sinister history to this crisis which did not happen overnight: In 1935, 30 states had passed a sterilization law for Blacks and minorities and 33 states already had sterilized some of its citizens. From 1907 to 1927 exactly 3,223 people were sterilized in the US. From 1927 to 1941 (during World War II) over 38,000 people were sterilized. Going into World War II there are 41,000 people sterilized. From 1942 to 1977 there were 28,000 people were sterilized bringing the total to 68,000! The last state where sterilization was recorded was North Carolina in 1977. Although the recording of it has disappeared, the practice still remains and is wider spread among Black and Hispanic populations. Contrary to this state of affairs for Blacks and minorities, a highly lucrative fertility industry flourishes which served primarily infertile, upper middle class, predominantly White couples.
The Black Lives Matter movement is about a fundamental problem in this country and the All Lives Matter response is not about positing any kind of fundamental change. Rather than face the facts that we have a crisis of race relations and that if it continues our house will not be in order, All Lives Matter wants to tell us to go back to sleep and tell us that nothing is wrong. It’s tokenism in the words of Malcolm. Our deen is the deen of truth and justice, and our creed affirms the fact that the realities of things are to be known. We don’t believe in sophistry of any kind and All Lives Matter is a slogan of sophism regarding crimes and injustice towards Blacks in hopes of obstructing change. As Muslims, we cannot be prisoners of tokenism, sophism, parallaxism, racism, or any of the other ninety-nine “isms” of Western European so-called Enlightenment that has now become transformed and transmuted into Americanism and dollarism. These ninety-nine “isms” of modernity are but harfi when compared to and juxtaposed against the 99 isms of Allah. We bow down to Him alone, not to any man nor any ideology of man. And we stand up for anyone who is forced to bow down to any man, whether they wear white hoods, white collar shirts or shiny white badges. We uplift those who are treated as objects and subjugated by man. We stand up to this and against this. We must see past the games and mirage of man-made agendas and ideologies but we can only do this when are hearts are cleansed from delusions of being attached to material comforts and desires for recognition by the media and dominant culture. Our desire to be accepted at any cost ruins any momentum we exert in progressing towards lofty goals. True leadership is about speaking truth to power and standing up for justice – for helping your brothers and sisters who are oppressed by uplifting them and helping your brother or sister who is the oppressor by stopping them from oppressing. But if there is no acknowledgment of the oppression to begin with, then our claim to helping our brothers and sister has no substance to it. The scholars explain that the part is highlighted to indicate the whole (dhikrul juz, iradetul kul). If there is no concern for your brother on the corner, your claim to be concerned about your brothers in general is deficient and a delusion.
In theory, yes all lives do matter. But the practice says another thing. Black Lives Matter is a critique of the centuries of failure of the practice that all men are created equal and that liberty and justice are for all in this country. It has never been so and it never will be, so long as we are told that All Lives Matter, and go back to sleep. But the moment we awaken to realize that Black Lives Matter and this becomes a new political condition with fundamental change, then that is the day that we may truly progress forward. For the oppressor to admit his errors is for him to take the first step at atonement. Only then can the oppression begin to stop. Repentance (tawbah) is required for progressing towards proximity to Allah. Tawbah means returning or going back. In order to progress forward, you must return back – and therein lies the beauty of the paradoxical effectiveness of the Black Lives Matter movement. To end oppression, white American power structures must acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.
They must see Blacks as having an independent value. They must return to the scene of their crimes and atone for what has been done by affirming that there is no just cause for seeing others as being only instrumentally valuable. And while we have, under this President, acknowledged the crimes done to the Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by returning to the site of destruction by hate and power, while we have begun to mend relations with Cuba by returning to Cuba, while we have attempted to mend relations with Iran and other places in the world that America has demonized and ostracized internationally, because these things are in our strategic and financial interest, we have yet to affirm that Black Lives Matter here domestically – because it is not in their interest, neither strategically or financially. As Muslims, we must clarify that this movement is about America’s moral interest. It’s not a racial cause – it’s an ethical one aimed at changing the political condition of a people by their standing up and saying things need to change; that they will bow no more to power, racism, and harfism. We must stand with them to affirm that we bow down to no man nor to any system, even if it were just let alone if it were not. If we are truly American and truly Muslim – then that should matter.
Khalil Abdur-Rashid was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He completed his bachelor degree in Social Work and worked for the state of Georgia as a social worker for several years. He pursued Islamic studies academically and traditionally which led him overseas to study for numerous years. He pursued a Master’s Degree in Istanbul, Turkey in Islamic Law at Marmara University. He also completed advanced Islamic seminary training and received his full doctoral license (Ijaaza) in Islamic Sciences. Khalil holds a Master of Arts in Middle East Studies as well as a Master of Philosophy in Islamic Law both from Columbia University in New York City. He has taught numerous courses on Islam and Islamic law at NYU and Columbia University and taught Arabic language at Georgia State University. He was the first paid Muslim Chaplain for Columbia University and Barnard College in New York City and served as an advisor to the NYPD Police Commissioner. He also served as Imam for several years in New York City and has lectured at Harvard, Princeton, and NYU. He served for several years as Scholar-in-Residence at the Islamic Association of Collin County. He is now an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate of Liberal Studies Program at SMU.