Smith College President Kathleen McCartney’s Apologizes For Saying “All Lives Matter”: Is There A Problem?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.

There is a problem, all right, but not the one you might think—at least not this time.

Smith College President Kathleen McCartney attempted to  show support for her students  protesting racism and police brutality by sending a campus-wide email titled, “All Lives Matter.” But the official slogan of such protests is “black lives matter.” McCartney immediately came under fire from black students and others, accusing her of minimizing the specific nature of her concerns. “No, Kathy. Please do not send out an email saying ‘All lives matter.’ This isn’t about everyone, this is about black lives,” Sophia Buchanan, a Smith student, in a typical critique.

The college President apologized several hours later, saying that she hadn’t thought about the fact that “all lives matter” was being used by some as a rebuttal to “black lives matter”:

“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…. “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.”

That statement put her in the cross-hairs of the “conservative media” and others, who treated it as a full-fledged “gotcha!” What??? Saying that all lives matter is offensive now? What next Orwellian proposition will political correctness bullies demand from spineless college administrators?

  • Instapundit: “When you reward people for being “furious and offended,” you get a lot more furious and offended people. Though why the knee-jerk emotions of callow undergraduates are treated as significant is beyond me.”
  • PJ Tatler: “Smith College Prez: Oops, I Guess ‘All Lives’ Don’t Matter After All!”
  • Reason: “…more and more teens are learning all the wrong lessons about speech – and believe they have the right not to encounter ideas that might upset their delicate feelings.”
  • Even the usually reasonable Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education,  told Fox News that McCartney’s apology is just one more example of out-of-control political correctness at college campuses, saying”It’s hard to challenge minds while walking on eggshells.”

McCarthey was right to apologize, however, and only confirmation bias on the part of those who 1) are not sympathetic with the protests, 2) are convinced, with good reason, that college administrators are generally knee-jerk shills for progressive talking points and as spineless as nematode worms, and 3) that civil rights activists are pushing the cultural consensus that black lives DO matter more, could have led otherwise reasonable people to misread the obvious.

If an activist says to me, “too many children go to bed hungry!” and my retort is, “Too many people go to bed hungry!”, the unspoken argument is “So stop acting like children are a special problem!” If I say, “We need peace in Syria,” and a friend’s response is “We need to end war, period!”, I view that as an effort to minimize my concerns by launching it from the realm of a specific issue into vague, generic territory.  “Black Lives Matter!” in the context of recent police episodes where African Americans died under circumstances that many believe show police callousness and excessive force against blacks is a distinct assertion that suggests that the law enforcement and justice systems do not currently function as if black lives matter as much as white lives. It is true that “All Lives Matter” includes the larger subset “black lives matter”; it is also true that it blurs the issue at hand, and dilutes the protesters’ point. It is not inappropriate for  President McCartney to apologize in this context…unless, of course, she intended a rebuttal, in which case she is indeed spineless.

We know she didn’t intend a rebuttal because of other features of her first message to the campus that do deserve criticism. For example, it begins,

“The failure of grand juries in Missouri and New York to indict two police officers for their use of excessive force, resulting in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, has led to a shared fury—and a deep sorrow.”

That student protestors (as well as many pundits and politicians) find it convenient to ignore the facts and impugn the independent judgment of the Ferguson grand jury is not a justification for an educator to contribute to the spreading of falsity. The evidence does not show that Officer Darren Wilson used excessive force to stop a violent and large young man who was charging him, and it is irresponsible and dishonest for the president of a major college to state otherwise to those she is obligated to teach. McCartney, an authority on child development and early education but apparently an ignoramus regarding the law, prosecutorial ethics and grand juries, is engaging in educational malpractice here, as well as good, old-fashioned rabble-rousing.

Nor is there any evidence that in either the Garner or Brown deaths, racial bias had anything to do with the tragedies, unless we are to assume that the mere fact that the police were white and the deceased were black is proof enough. College presidents should not engage in reverse racism; indeed nobody should.

(By the way, if I say  “College presidents should not engage in reverse racism” and you say, “Nobody should,” I am going to reply, “Fine, but that wasn’t my point!!” Whereupon you should say, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean anything by it!”) 

She is also, by adopting the despicable and indefensible tactic of pairing the Ferguson and the Staten Island incidents when they involve different police, different issues and different circumstances, endorsing poor critical thinking skills and bias. She should be criticized for that, and hard.

Mischaracterizing her apology, however, is just gotcha! politics.


Sources: Reason, Campus Reform,


17 thoughts on “Smith College President Kathleen McCartney’s Apologizes For Saying “All Lives Matter”: Is There A Problem?

  1. I’m disheartened by the rejection of All Lives Matter by the black community. In my view, it’s an attempt to show solidarity and unify the voices of the people against excessive use of force by police and improper escalation of situations. I think a lot of people in this country want to show that unity whether their heritage is Asian, African, European, Latin, or American – but to have that unity cut down so short and so narrow-minded suggests that maybe we aren’t ready to affect change yet.

  2. Sadly, Jack, #BlackLivesMatter should include the proviso “Only if we can blame the (white) Man for their deaths.” If #BlackLivesReallyMattered, these yapping idiots would be lined up protesting the fact that a young black man is 8x more likely to be killed by another young black man than by any other kind of person. But they don’t, so…it’s mostly specious nonsense, a handy rhetorical cudgel to use against “approved targets,” while ignoring a much, much larger issue (with much more troubling and impolitic implications).

  3. I understand what you’re saying Jack, but I can’t help but think that the rejection of the “All Lives Matter” line in favor of “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t just polarize the issue, but does so in a way that is divisive. “All Lives Matter” includes the unwritten “Including blacks”, where “Black Lives Matter” screams to me “So do something about it Whitey” (Which I admit, might be a personal failing on my part, but I feel that in the context of current racial relations isn’t at least without a small amount of merit.) It just seems small and petty in the face of the losses of life to bicker over which bumper sticker slogan most represents the disenfranchised.

    • I agree, but if the president was trying to be 100% supportive, then that issue is not best addressed as she initially did. Thus an apology, from her perspective and those who she inadvertently contradicted, is appropriate. The fact that I wouldn’t have apologized doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t.

      • If racial bias was so prevalent in law enforcement, Attorney General Kamala Harris would not have said the following:

        Local law enforcement must be able to use their discretion to determine who can carry a concealed weapon

        If racial bias was so prevalent, then we can not trust law enforcement with discretion as to how we may use our constitutional rights in public.

        But she did, so that shows there is no racial bias. Who are we to question the attorney general’s judgment regarding law enforcement?

          • I never understood an actual merits defense of “may issue” CCW laws, where in addition to meeting objective statutory criteria, a sheriff or police chief must judge the applicant’s character and need to concealed carry. It is one thing for the legislature to set forth statutory criteria; it is a whole other issue for individual executive officials to have discretion.

            And the thing is, Attorney General Harris does not look like a good ol’ boy who would trust law enforcement to make sure only the “right” kind of people get to exercise their constitutional rights.

      • 3 previous cases. The pattern is suspicious, depending on how frequently other cops get that sort of thing. If he stands out more than his fellow cops working the same area, there may be a legitimate reason. Hence some evidence, although it’s weak. Evidence is not the same thing as proof.

  4. You can’t win, though, Jack. I know this is going to sound trivial but it does go back to language.

    I think you could have made such an ethical consideration in the early days of “Black Pride,” meant originally to give ALL Americans a sense of worth in BLACK Americans that was felt to be lacking both within as well as without the population, only to be automatically devalued by versions of “how dare you co-opt that fine old word!,” accusations of hubris (“that’s what goeth before the whatsis, y’know”), and finally, denounce it as a war cry. Which is how it continues to echo.

    To start with, simple agreement on definitions and mutual knowledge of vital connotations are essential to discussion to, for instance, comprehend the complexity of cultures that are continually stirred in these American pots until, time and time again, they boil over without ever melting by one little bubble. You can read it every day (for those of you who do) in the ripostes to the posts in Ethics Alarms, a great many of which are written with intelligence, knowledge and finesse…… of language.

    But without accepting the fact that there is almost always a behemoth in the room. Jack puts it there and describes it (with a typo or two to make us feel comfortable) in terms of ethical considerations and arguments. Leaving us the freedom to express our diverse deathgrips, each on a different part of the elephant.

    What I see happening with “Black Lives Matter” is the same deadly progression as occurred with “Black Pride*, i.e. I didn’t say your white life didn’t matter; I didn’t say anything about your white (or blue or green) life at all
    — [this is where the Tim LeVier and RMGriffis’ posts come in, to be joined, I’m sure by others] —

    because the assumption is: AND YOU KNOW IT. I don’t pretend to understand your white ways but I know about them; and you keep telling me you understand mine. You study me, you have all those numbers about me, you make such a fuss about me, you can’t tell me you don’t know there are bad things that come right at me — and they’re coming from your side. Yes, I knew it wasn’t ALL one-side but, see, you want it to be nothing … So I’m making it everything. And since you won’t listen to me (because now you think I’m devaluing YOU, because I’m raising my voice — my too-loud voice) that leaves me no choice but to go for Direct Action . . .
    which is where a lot of heads are spinning now.

    This is how bad it’s getting:

  5. I read the article and I don’t understand what she had to apologize for. Using your hunger argument, if someone tells me “too many children go to bed hungry” and I publish an article stating “Too Many People Go to Bed Hungry” and list a bunch of statistics about hunger in America, there is nothing to apologize for even though it will upset activist who ARE only concerned with child hunger and think everyone else can starve. Use of excessive force by police does need to be addressed and it does happen to ALL people. I also don’t care if some fringe group that wants poor people to starve has a slogan “Too Many People Go to Bed Hungry”, they and the hypersensitive protesters are the problem. Apologizing for saying “All lives matter” is like capitulating to the violent, irrational mob by stating that excessive police force was the reason behind Michael Brown’s death. Oh yeah, she did that too.

  6. Kathleen McCartney is spineless.
    Not much else to say here.
    This is why SJWs are and will continue to be ridiculed and ignored by the majority, and will continue to harm the very causes they are supposedly supporting.

  7. What are President Kathleen McCartney’s views on preborn human beings in utero? Do they matter? Morally and ethically, not legally, does anyone have the right to terminate his or her exiistance? Her broad statement calls for her, in her prestigious role, to give us an answer.

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