White people who reject the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in favor of the phrase “All Lives Matter” tend to score higher on assessments of implicit racism against Black people and define racism in narrow terms, according to research published in the British Journal of Social Psychology. They are also more likely to endorse color-blind ideologies.
“I became aware of Black Lives Matter a few years after it started up. The slogan seemed like such a straightforward, humble, and positive one that I struggled to see what fault anyone could find in it,” explained study author Keon West, an associate professor and director of the Equalab at Goldsmiths, University of London.
“The most obvious retort – ‘no, Black lives don’t matter’ – was so clearly and aggressively racist that I couldn’t envision anyone publicly endorsing such a position. It really seemed like a political unifier, something that we couldn’t really find anything to disagree about. So when ‘All Lives Matter’ emerged as an opposing response to ‘Black Lives Matter’ I became curious about what it really meant.”
“It obviously can’t just mean that ‘All Lives Matter,’ because (1) people say it as though it contradicts ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but (2) anyone who believes ‘All Lives Matter’ must also believe that ‘Black Lives Matter’ (Black lives are a subset of all lives, so the logic is inescapable),” West said. “So I started designing research to get at what ‘All Lives Matter’ was really saying.”
The study, which included 287 White individuals living in the United Kingdom, asked participants whether they would be more comfortable saying “All Lives Matter” or “Black Lives Matter” in a public setting.
The researchers found that support for “All Lives Matter” over “Black Lives Matter” was associated with unconscious racial bias as measured via a Black-White Implicit Association Test.
Support for “All Lives Matter” was also associated with endorsing a color-blind ideology and narrow definitional boundaries of anti-Black discrimination. In other words, the phrase was more likely to be supported by those who agreed with statements such as “It is important that people begin to think of themselves as British and not Black British or Asian British” and “The core of anti-Black racism is that it is malicious: if a person is not being malicious, then it can’t be racism.”
The findings held even after the researchers controlled for the effects of political ideology.
“Looking at the stats, when someone says ‘All Lives Matter,’ what they’re really saying is something like (1) I have anti-Black racist sentiments that I haven’t acknowledged, (2) I prefer not to think about race at all and (3) I define anti-Black discrimination in such narrow terms that it’s really hard to recognize it,” West told PsyPost.
“Looking at it that way really helps make sense of what’s going on. Of course, a person could dislike the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ if they really didn’t like to think about race, or acknowledge societal racism, and had a bit of racism in them they also didn’t acknowledge. To such a person, ‘Black Lives Matter’ would be a confrontational accusation about their own egalitarianism, a unwelcome reminder of systemic inequalities in police treatment, and a way to highlight uncomfortable issues they’d rather forget.”
The researchers also found that agreeing with statements characterizing modern racism (“Blacks have more influence on society than they ought to have”) and statements characterizing collective narcissism (“I will never be satisfied until my group gets the recognition it deserves”) was associated with greater support for “All Lives Matter.”
But these relationships “didn’t remain statistically significant once we fed all the predictors into the equations at the same time,” West explained. “These are really not nice variables. So, even though we still have a lot to learn about ‘All Lives Matter’ support, we already know that it’s associated with some pretty nasty, pretty racist stuff.”
Because of the correlational nature of the data, however, it is unclear whether the variables included in the study are driving support for the “All Lives Matter” phrase. “These are just correlations, so we can’t and shouldn’t say that we know that these things are causing support for ‘All Lives Matter.’ That support could be caused by something else that’s just related to these things,” West said.
The study, “Implicit racism, colour blindness, and narrow definitions of discrimination: Why some White people prefer ‘All Lives Matter’ to ‘Black Lives Matter’“, was authored by Keon West, Katy Greenland, and Colette van Laar.