Kathleen McCartney, the president of prestigious Smith College, has had to apologize for what she has described as language that offended minority students. The language? McCartney wrote email supporting students protesting the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York that said that “all lives matter.” She was immediately criticized for being too inclusive and not saying “Black lives matter.” McCartney agreed that she was wrong and apologized to the whole school.
McCartney was trying to show support for the protesters when she wrote to the student body that “We are united in our insistence that all lives matter” and criticized the grand jury decisions as causing “a shared fury . . . . We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest.”
The backlash was quick and . . . furious for not limiting the expression of concern to “black lives.” On Smith sophomore, Cecelia Lim, complained to the school newspaper that McCartner’s deviation form “black lives matter” was taken as “invalidating the experience of black lives.” Another wrote “It minimizes the anti-blackness of this the current situation; yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are being targeted for police brutality. The black students at this school deserve to have their specific struggles and pain recognized, not dissolved into the larger student body.”
This view is shared by commentators who have insisted that the failure to speak exclusively of Black lives makes people part of the problem. On HuffPost in a column entitled Please Stop Telling Me That All Lives Matter, Julia Craven insisted that “Saying “all lives matter” is nothing more than you centering and inserting yourself within a very emotional and personal situation without any empathy or respect.”
McCartney apologized profusely and said that “I regret that I was unaware the phrase/hashtag “all lives matter” has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people.”
While “all lives matters” may not convey the specific message of “institutional violence against Black people” it did strive (as college presidents and academics are want to do) to be inclusive in the valuation of all lives. It conveyed that all lives — regardless of color — must be valued and protected equally. There will be an ongoing debate over the alleged “institutional violence against Black people” and it is a debate that may be long overdue. While I understand the point being made, McCartney’s original statement valuing all lives equally is hardly a matter for public apology in my view. Indeed, the remainder of her statement makes clear that she shared the “fury” of those who disagree with the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York.
Here are the messages to the campus.
Source: Higher Education