Before You Say 'All Lives Matter', Read This First

Joy Ejaria
Photo credit: Andrei Stanescu

From Men's Health

Tired of talking about racism? Try experiencing it. It’s a daily struggle of navigating through a system that’s clearly not built for you. If you dare speak up, your concerns are thrown away for being ‘all in your head.’ You quickly shove that black card so deep that you forget about it.

For every #BlackLivesMatter post you see on Instagram, underneath you will find a comment from someone saying #AllLivesMatter. I should know. As the Social Media & Content Manager for Men's Health UK, I've seen them. If you’re Black, chances are you’re sick and tired of this. You’ve probably had enough of trying to educate the people saying it. Because, if all lives mattered, shouldn’t that then include Black lives?

Black Lives Matter is a human rights movement calling for the end of violence and systemic racism towards Black people. The movement, in no shape or form, means or implies that other lives don’t matter. It just calls for equal rights and fair treatment of Black people in whatever space you find yourself. The particular interest in the movement right now stems from the demand for justice over the deaths of George Floyd and other victims of racial violence, including Ahmaud Arbery and Mark Duggan. A popular comment simplifies it further: “If a child hurts themselves in the playground and you bring them a plaster, it doesn’t mean the other children don’t matter, it just means you’re focussing your efforts on the one that needs help.”

Photo credit: Alice Cowling

The latest ONS data shows that there are 66.65 million people in the UK and just under two million of those are Black. Yet, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was found that people from a BAME background were dying at a disproportionate rate compared to white citizens.

“We don’t do politics; we do wellbeing,” said Men’s Health UK’s Editor in Chief Toby Wiseman underneath a Black Lives Matter graphic posted to our Instagram on Monday. When we posted this gesture of solidarity, we were quick to hear from an irate audience.

I’m a Black woman, in a white male-dominated field. I’m not your avocado-on-toast eating fitness influencer who shops at Wholefoods. I don’t shove wellbeing down people’s throat and I go to the gym as sporadically as the UK gets sunshine. So you can only imagine the looks I receive when I introduce myself and my role to those in the fitness industry.

To be on the receiving end of racial slurs and comments from an audience you strive to help can be painful. And that’s putting it lightly. It’s hard not to take it personally. As the go-to for expert guidance, actionable content and self-help tips to help improve mental strength and wellbeing, it’s sad to see the keyboard warriors not taking this into account when engaging with content that’s designed to help. Does the mental health of the person managing the account — the same account you’re bashing for acknowledging the pain a portion of their audience is going through — not matter?

When I started my role, I felt like I had to change myself due to previous experiences of unconscious bias in the workplace, I came into the role with a meek version of myself. If I’m quiet enough, maybe they won’t notice me. When you’re Black, that’s what you’re taught from a young age. You get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Despite how taxing it may be on your mental wellbeing, you wake up every day and put on a brave face and go about your day. When you experience a micro-aggression that knocks your spirit, you just keep it moving. I’ve cried many times due to feelings of frustrations and wondering if it’s all just in my head. What I’ve come to realise is that it’s not. It took the earthquake created by this movement to realise that.

I now acknowledged the anxiety I feel about being Black. It’s definitely something I should seek therapy for because that weight on my shoulder needs lifting. But sadly talking about mental health in the black community is a taboo.

Despite the detention rate under the Mental Health Act during 2017/18 of people in the ‘Black’ or ‘Black British’ group being four times higher than those in the ‘White’ group, we as a community refuse to address these issues. Then, when you look at the Black man specifically, the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) found that Black men were more likely than their White counterparts to experience a psychotic disorder.

I know it’s exhausting. We’ve gone from talking about social distancing and coronavirus to a whole different pandemic because, yes, racism is a pandemic that needs a vaccine. You might be feeling guilt and embarrassment by the topic, but it needs addressing. Fast.

Change starts now. Before you comment #AllLivesMatter, think about how that comment in itself is racist. Only then can you start moving forward and create actionable change.

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