Black Lives Matter Lesson Series: Part 2

Through a series of engaging "opinion continuum" exercises, students explore a range of views about the phrases "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter."  

BLM Lesson Series Part 2:  
"All Lives Matter" versus "Black Lives Matter"

To the Teacher: 

The lesson below is the second in a 3-lesson series in which we take a close look at the Black Lives Matter movement, why and how it came into being, and what it has evolved into.  We’ll also look at some of the criticism it has received and the movement’s next steps.  Before beginning these lessons, you may want to review these guidelines for teaching about difficult or controversial issues. 
Lesson 1:  Black Lives Matter: An Introduction
Lesson 2: "All Lives Matter" versus "Black Lives Matter"
Lesson 3:  What Is "Black Lives Matter" Working Towards?

Preparation:  This lesson includes more material than can be used in one regular class period.  You may want to pick and choose the quotes and prompts you think are most relevant for your students, given the time you have available, and/or leave the video for another time. 

In advance of the lesson, print out this pdf of tweets and make enough copies for each of several small groups in your classroom.


"All Lives Matter" Word Association

Going around the circle (or in popcorn style), ask students to share one word in response to the slogan "All Lives Matter." Acknowledge the responses in the room, recognizing similarities and differences.

Explain that in today’s lesson you’ll focus on the slogan "All Lives Matter," which was coined, most recently, in response to the "Black Lives Matter" slogan and movement that sprang from it.   We’ll look at a range of perspectives and try to understand them by placing them in a historical, political, and social context.  

Ask students to break into small groups, and give each group a copy of this pdf

Tweets: "All Lives Matter"

Look at the pdf of tweets and discuss them in your small group: 

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about these tweets? In your group, begin by considering each tweet in turn.
  • What do you think they are in reference to?
  • Why do you think some people are arguing to use #AllLivesMatter instead of #BlackLivesMatter?
  • Why do some people argue against the use of #AllLivesMatter?

Opinion Continuum:
The Debate over " All Lives Matter"


Explain that there are many (predominantly white) people, across the country, who maintain that saying "All Lives Matter" instead of "Black Lives Matter" is more inclusive. 

A report on a poll Rasmussen Reports conducted about this issue in 2015 stated: 

"Yes, black lives matter, but don’t all lives matter? That seems to be the subject of some political dispute.  
When asked which statement is closest to their own views, 78% of likely U.S. voters say all lives matter. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 11% say black lives matter. Nine percent (9%) say neither statement reflects their point of view.  
Thirty-one percent (31%) of black voters say black lives matter is closest to their own views, but just nine percent (9%) of whites and 10% of other minority voters agree. Eighty-one percent (81%) of whites and 76% of other minority voters opt instead for all lives matter, and 64% of blacks agree.


In the activity that follows, we’ll hear from a variety of people in the public eye about their preference regarding the two phrases.  Throughout it all, we’ll also ask students to take a stance on the matter, in the following way: 
On one side of the room post a sign that reads, completely agree.  On the other side of the room a sign that reads, completely disagree.  Invite students to position themselves along an imaginary continuum between the two signs, in response to a series of statements that you’ll read out to them based on perspectives shared in the media.
After each statement ask a few volunteers across the continuum to share out why they chose to stand where they are standing.  Invite other students to listen well. This is not a debate in which you’re trying to win an argument. This is intended to be a dialogue in which your aim is to better understand the various perspectives in the room. After several students have had a chance to share, ask if anyone would like to change their position on the continuum.
If students are unfamiliar with the "opinion continuum," you may want to start out with a relatively low-stakes statement to get people used to the activity: 

  • Dogs make better pets than cats. 

Invite students to organize themselves along the continuum according to their level of agreement with this statement.  There are likely to be a variety of opinions, possibly strong opinions, in the room.  When students have positioned themselves, elicit a few opinions from either end of the continuum and some from the middle.  Encourage people to practice good listening.  And before moving on, ask if anyone changed their minds based on what they heard and, if so, invite them to change their position on the continuum. 

Opinion Continuum 1

Once everyone is clear on how this activity works, move onto the subject at hand.  The statement to start the day with is: 

  • All Lives Matter is more inclusive than Black Lives Matter.

Invite students to organize themselves along the continuum and start eliciting a variety of perspectives. Remember that it is possible for people to stand in the same spot on the continuum for different reasons. 

Opinion Continuum 2 

Next invite two volunteers to read the following quotes out loud:
Donald Trump (Washington Post)
"Hours after he branded himself the "law and order" candidate for president [in July 2016], Donald Trump weighed in on another politically loaded term — one he proudly rejected: "Black Lives Matter." "A lot of people feel that it is inherently racist," the ... Republican nominee told the Associated Press on Monday. "It’s a very divisive term, because all lives matter. It’s a very, very divisive term." 
Richard Sherman (NY Daily News)
"Count Richard Sherman in the controversial ‘All Lives Matter’ crowd. The Seattle Seahawks corner made that clear on Tuesday, in an interview on The Undefeated, and spent Wednesday drawing heat for those comments. He said that it’s ‘hard’ for him to form an opinion on Black Lives Matter.  ‘I stand by what I said that All Lives Matter and that we are human beings,’ he told Undefeated. ‘And speaking to police, I want African-Americans and everybody else treated decently. I want them treated like human beings. And I also want the police treated like human beings. I don’t want police officers just getting knocked off in the street who haven’t done anything wrong. Those are innocent lives.’"
Invite students to position themselves across the continuum according to some or all of the following statements: 

  • "Black Lives Matter" is divisive and racist.
  • We’re all human beings so "All Lives Matter" is more inclusive.

For each statement separately, process where students are standing in the same way as before.

Opinion Continuum 3 

Then, invite three more volunteers to read the following quotes out loud:
Hillary Clinton (MTV)
In June [2015], [Democratic Presidential nominee] Hillary Clinton was criticized when she made a visit to a historic black church near Ferguson and said, ‘All Lives Matter.’  One woman in attendance said later, ‘My children matter. And I need to hear my president say that the lives of my children matter. That my little black children matter. Because right now our society does not say that they matter. Black lives matter. That’s what she needs to say.  Hillary supporters argued that the comment was taken out of context ..., and pointed out that in the past she has said, "Yes, black lives matter." This week, Hillary has also taken additional opportunities to explicitly say, "Black lives matter." 
Fetty Wap (Vibe)
Hip Hop artist Fetty Wap was the latest celebrity to receive a severe clapback from Black Twitter on Thursday [July 7, 2016]. Mr. 1738 joined in on the social commentary heightened by the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but the internet wasn’t too pleased with his contribution. ‘My kids are Mixed...#AllLivesMatter,’ the rapper wrote in a deleted tweet, welcoming a swarm of backlash in his mentions.  Fetty has since taken to Instagram to apologize for his failure to understand the complexity of the Black Lives Matter movement and vowed not to speak on the matter again ‘I’m man enough to apologize, he wrote."
Kathleen McCartney (Fox News)
The president of ... Smith College ... Kathleen McCartney wrote ... ["all lives matter"] in the subject line of an e-mail to students at the school, .... [She] was attempting to show support for students protesting racially charged grand jury decisions in which police in Missouri and New York were not charged in the deaths of unarmed black men. .... McCartney's [use of all lives matter] ... was seen as an affront that diminished the focus on black lives and racism .... "We are united in our insistence that all lives matter," read the e-mail, in which she made clear she was strongly behind protests, writing that the grand jury decisions had "led to a shared fury... We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest." In response to student backlash, McCartney apologized in another campus-wide email Friday, saying she had made a mistake "despite my best intentions."  .... "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," she wrote."     
Again ask students to position themselves across the continuum according to some or all of the following statements: 

  • Words/slogans cannot be taken out of the context of the world and times we live in. 
  • It’s important you understand the words you use especially when speaking in public and/or sending out mass communication.  
  • People should apologize for offensive language, even if their intention was not to offend.
  • "All Lives Matter" draws attention away from what "Black Lives Matter" is trying to do.

For each statement separately, process where students are standing in the same way as before.

Opinion Continuum 4 

Invite three more volunteers to read the following quotes out loud:

President Barack Obama (ThinkProgress)
Many politicians have taken up the rallying cry of "all lives matter" to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement for focusing on specific injustices done to African Americans.  ....  President Barack Obama ... explained why "black lives matter" is an important statement.  "I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase "black lives matter" was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter," he said. "What they were suggesting was, there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address."

Jonathan Capehart (Washington Post)
Journalist Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post writes: "The best way to understand the meaning of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is to think of it as an incomplete sentence. To those African Americans and other Americans marching to protest lives extinguished by law enforcement, the unspoken finish to the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is "as much as anyone else's."  

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio (New York Times)
On Monday, ... [Mayor Bill] de Blasio said that the Black Lives Matter movement had "hit the right note."  "The very phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a necessary part of the national discussion," he said. "It has helped us to recognize that sadly our history over and over again did not value African-Americans."
Again ask students to position themselves across the continuum according to some or all of the following statements: 

  • Black Lives Matter is more inclusive than All Lives Matter.
  • Black Lives Matter needs to be emphasized so that All Lives WILL Matter
  • All Lives Matter is divisive/racist.
  • Slogans like "Black Lives Matter," "All Lives Matter" and others cannot be understood outside of the historical, political and social context in which they were created/are used.

Opinion Continuum 5

Note: This final opinion continuum exercise has students to respond to a quote from the Black Lives Matter website.  If you are able to show students the video below (which includes statements by BLM activists), you may choose to skip this last question to avoid repetition.
Invite one final volunteer to read the following quote out loud:
According to the Black Lives Matter website itself:  

Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.  When Black people get free, everybody gets free.  This is why we call on Black people and our allies to take up the call that Black lives matter. We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways. We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.

 Again ask students to position themselves across the continuum according to the following statement:

  •  Freeing black people from oppression, frees us all.  Our destinies are intertwined.

Video: 'What the World Needs to Know about Black Lives Matter'

Show students the following 2-minute video:

Then ask some or all of the following questions as you build on the information that has been discussed already so far today.  

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this video?
  • What is the main take away for you from this video? 
  • What do the people in the video say about love?
  • What principles do the people in the video say the Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in?  (Principles of human rights, dignity and respect)
  • What does the video say about how our society functions and moves forward? (African Americans and Blacks are often left out, excluded, and incarcerated)
  • Who does the Black Lives Matter movement stand for?  And what does the video say about Black Lives Matter in relation to white people and police?  (Pro-Black isn’t synonymous with anti-white or anti-cop)
  • What does the video say Black Lives Matter is about? (Peace, bringing people together, fighting for justice, solidarity, unity)
  • What does the video say about terror?  (It has no place in the movement)
  • What are the people in the video saying about what needs to happen NOW?
  • One of the people in the video says:  "Protesting and speaking out is one of the most American things you can do."  Another person says: "If it hadn’t been for the voices of those who dared to go against the grain, those who dared to be the difference, we may not be where we are today."  What do you think these quotes refer to?  How would you place them in a historical and present day context.
  • In the video someone says: "Silence is complicity and refusing to speak up, write about or protest against the despicable treatment of black lives in America essentially shows that you’re on the side of the oppressor."  How do you feel about this?  Consider connecting it to the quote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, resisting racist systems in South Africa:  "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." 
  • What is the message to the people who say All Lives Matter?  (Check your arguments.  Really educate yourself about what Black Lives Matter means.  Do your research on housing segregation, racial disparities in income and education and mass incarceration and you’ll realize why we need to say Black Lives Matter.) 
  • The last person in the video says "all lives don’t matter until black lives do."  How does this relate to what we’ve discussed today?



Invite students in pairs to draft a tweet that they’d consider sending out based on something they learned today.  Invite a few volunteers to share out their tweet.