In defense of “not all.”

The words “not all” are having something of a moment. Not necessarily the kind of moment they might want to have, but it sure is a moment.

All across the internet – on Twitter (of course), but also well-known and less-known blogs, among cartoonists and meme producers, at Jezebel and Vox and even at Time magazine – activists of all stripes are decrying and/or mocking the whininess of people who announce (often quite loudly) that Not All men/white people/straight folks/what-have-you are “like that” – whatever the “that” might be. Racist assholes. Misogynist jerkwads. Homophobic douche-nozzles. And the like.

And I see the point, I genuinely do. Oppression and bigotry are daily, often deadly struggles, and the idea that we need to watch out for the delicate emotional states of people who (consciously or unknowingly) benefit from the fruits of oppression and bigotry can be flat-out ridiculous, not to mention adding insult to literal injury.

But look. I’ve been a social justice activist my whole life, around issues that tend to make people very angry, in particular gender violence and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trust me when I say that I have more than a little experience with people saying truly horrible things, and expecting me to explain away the horrible things that other people say or do. I’ve been mansplained, Jewsplained, Arabsplained, Gentilesplained, OppressionOlympicssplained, and then mansplained again for good measure, ad nauseum. And yet I am forever producing some version of “not all.” Even if through gritted teeth.

To read the rest of this, please go to xoJane.


  1. Excellent work, as always.

    From my point of view, the “not all” phenomenon has come about because too many of the worst kinds of people are using it as a shield, to mitigate the obviousness of their ignorance, bigotry, and misogyny. They have imbued the phrase with a Potter-esque power in their minds, as if it’s utterance immediately neutralizes their foe’s assault on their character. For those who have been on the wrong side of systemic, institutional amoral conduct, this can no doubt be a most infuriating response, especially when someone has laid bare that they are steeped in patriarchy and oblivious to the privilege that cloaks them.

  2. Neocortex

     /  May 24, 2014

    I don’t think, though, that anyone who mocks “Not all” is mocking its use by activists for tactical or strategic reasons, let alone calling such activists traitors to the cause (okay, there is probably someone on the Internet who is doing this, because there’s a whole lot of people out there and some of them don’t think things through, but the people doing this are thin on the ground). They’re mocking its use by the people with the not-all boots that you’re talking about, the people using it as a shield against having to acknowledge privilege and oppression. Most people already understand the difference between the tactics that you’re talking about and some jackhole indignantly proclaiming that not all white people are racists in response to someone talking about white supremacy.

%d bloggers like this: