the problem with #notall

Akin to the grievous backlash Black Lives Matter faces in the form of the obnoxious hashtag #AllLivesMatter, #NotAll [Fill In The Blank] runs rampant on social media, the Blogosphere, and anywhere discussions about oppression are present both on- and offline.

Not all Whites; not all men; not all neurotypicals; not all thin people; not all people who are upper-class; not all cis people; the list goes on forever. It’s a one-size-fits-all buzzword, because of its fill-in-the-blank format. Whatever demographic is being discussed, whatever form of kyriarchal oppression is being addressed, those on the (perceived) butt-end of the conversation can neatly fit themselves within its influence. Anything one person, demographic, word, or action can use #NotAll to twist a conversation around, re-designated enough space for a role of false victimization–for the oppressors to show how ‘they are the real victim.’ It de-centers, or ‘derails,’ the conversation; flips it on its head: the conversation is now centered around catering to the #NotAll fallacy, which means that the ways in which various harmful actions of an oppressive demographic impact an oppressed demographic is no longer being discussed; the topic is now the oppressive demographic itself. This is only one root of the toxicity.

Say we’re talking about a rainforest. Rainforests face unique kinds of destruction for various reasons; destruction harms the biodiversity and ecosystems living within the rainforest; we talk about how humans are causing much of the destruction, and thusly humans should also work hard to stop it–especially when we benefit from the destruction of biodiversity (economically, socially, imperialism etc.). We’re talking about old-growth trees and how, while we often talk about the evils of poaching rainforests for lumber and the evils of the individuals or companies/organizations that do the poaching and how it is harmful, but aren’t all kinds of forests important? Aren’t all kinds of ecosystems important? Aren’t all species living within those ecosystems important? We are excluding all other kinds of forests and the species that live within them by talking about rainforest destruction. Don’t all trees matter?

When we talk about or work against the destruction of rainforests, we know that all types of deforestation happening in all locations facing it matter. We also understand that rainforests face unique kinds of destruction, reasons for poaching, and how some species are endangered or at risk of becoming endangered or killed. #NotAllPoachers target rainforests: we know this as well. Dialogues on how rainforests are being destroyed need to happen if anyone wants to work towards strategies of improving the situation; poaching and other problems needs to be acknowledged. Imagine tree poachers or deforestation advocates, or maybe just people who don’t understand the conversation become offended about acknowledging destruction of one ecosystem but not others. Imagine telling them that of course #AllForestsMatter, but right now we’re not talking about all forests, we’re talking about rainforests. Now imagine these #NotAllPoachers and #AllForestsMatter folks jumping into conversations about stopping destruction. That’d be exhausting–it’d make comprehensive conversations nearly impossible because despite educating these folks multiple times, it is still not enough. Imagine this escalates to the level of harassment.

That’d be outrageous. And frustrating. We’d think “why do these folks think we’re talking about every single poacher ever? Moreover, if these discussion points don’t apply to them, why are they becoming offended and harassing rainforest-advocates anyway?” We’d think “when we say Poachers, we don’t mean every single poacher ever; when we say rainforest, we’re not discrediting other forests.” Imagine in order to prevent or escape continued harassment, constant derailing, the rhetoric must change–we change the rhetoric to say ‘not all’ or ‘most’ or ‘some’ or ‘many.’ Imagine that’s still not enough.

What a ridiculous thought. How silly a scenario that would be!

Now, try replacing #NotAll poachers and #AllForestsMatter with #NotAllWhites/Men/etc. and #AllLivesMatter. Not all poachers participate in rainforest destruction, but they all benefit in some way–financially, perhaps–from that destruction. Not all whites commit hate crimes against, actively subjugate, participate in racism towards People of Color, but all of us white folks do benefit from systemic subjugation of People of Color because it garners unearned social privilege; acknowledging that would mean acknowledging we have social privilege, and anti-racism advocacy would mean giving it up. #NotAllMen kill and maim and rape and terrorize and harass women and other femme-type folks, but all men do benefit from the violent social subjugation of women because it creates and perpetuates the social privilege (generally cis) men hold. The same goes for cis-hets, neurotypicals, thin people, and so on.

#NotAll people who use #NotAll tactics do so with the intent of derailing a conversation, either. That doesn’t mean it isn’t being derailed, re-centered and misdirected, though; and it still implies a duty of oppressed demographics to educate their oppressors–which would involve stopping a productive and important dialogue to do so. If a person in a #NotAll position does not participate in the harmful actions in question, they should stand back and listen. It’s normal to want to defend ourselves, to separate ourselves from those in our demographic we do oppress. (Remember: intersections. We are all oppressors and all oppressed at the same time for various reasons.) Doing so by jumping into a conversation to derail recognition of oppressive actions committed by most but perhaps #NotAll is an act of violence. Moreover, it can be and often is traumatic for those in the discussion: centering ______ feelings over ________ lives is never okay.

Do you have any experience with the #NotAll crew? How did you deal with it, what do you think the best way to do so is? Tell us in the comments, if you’d like.

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Jenna-Nichole, more commonly known as JayJay, is a Poet (with a capital P!) currently experiencing life in and around Massachusetts. When they’re not reading books, they’re reading more books.