‘Let’s Have that Conversation!’

Matt Bivens, MD
10 min readSep 16, 2020
Socratic dialogue, circa 2020. Image credit here.

Yes “all lives matter”, but you can’t say that.

But why?

We’re saying “Black lives matter” now. When you insist on “all lives matter,” it’s like you’re correcting that. This is like a call-response in church — we say “Black lives matter,” and you say “Amen”. If you improvise your reply, it’s like you’re sabotaging the service.

I can see that. I can. But … we’re not in church. We are living together in a sprawling, free, open society. So, isn’t it also grand if all different kinds of Americans express similar values, but each in their own words and ways? Isn’t that also beautiful? For example, I thought it was inspiring how unanimously outraged all of America was when we first saw the videos of poor Mr. George Floyd, but we each —

Look, when you respond evasively to the statement that “Black lives matter”, by insisting that “all lives matter,” it is the same as saying Black lives DON’T matter. “All lives” are not in danger when a person is pulled over by a police officer for having a broken tail light. How do you not see that? Do you have old-white-lady cataracts?

That’s not how I meant it though! Lots of people seem to be getting in trouble for this — even fired! — when it’s clear they weren’t being snarky. Shouldn’t we try to understand better what someone means?

However someone might mean “all lives matter,” insisting on it when we are saying “Black lives matter” only causes harm and pain.

I did not want to harm anyone! I just clicked that I liked that “all lives matter” comment because I honestly meant that — of course black lives matter and not just black lives, but all lives, I love everyone, brown and red and purple and blue and white and rainbow! I love everybody!

We capitalize Black now.

We do?

Do the work.


It means “educate yourself.”

I really do have to educate myself. I feel so out of step. It happened in just a matter of weeks really. Suddenly I don’t know any of the rules! Even in the 1960s, when we had hippies and anti-war protests and Beat poets and LSD and “tune in and drop out,” it felt more … coherent. So, we capitalize “Black” but we don’t capitalize colors for other races? We don’t capitalize brown or white? It’s so … inconsistent. But you are right, all of the newspapers are indeed doing this. Doesn’t that imply that a black person matters more than say a white person or a purple person?

See, when you say cute things like “I love purple lives,” it’s like you are taunting us. It’s like you are dismissing the very idea of race. That’s something that you can only afford to do because you’re bloated with white privilege.

Oh really now. How do you know I’m white?

Aren’t you?


We can tell. Only white people can act like a person’s race doesn’t matter. Do better.

Well. What color are you?

“What color are you?” Can you even hear yourself? We can’t believe it!

I did not mean to offend you! Wait, why do you keep saying “we”? Am I talking to a group?

An individual. We use the plural pronouns. “We / them / they.” It is not surprising that a person who could say something as crass as “what color are you?” would also lack the courtesy to ask about our preferred pronouns.

But “you” is a plural pronoun!


Are you … are we, not a, uh, a person of color?

A peoples of color?

“A peoples of color?” I can’t believe the things you say!

You’re back!


Did I misspeak, should I have said “we’re back”?


We were Tweeting at someone.

Ha! Love that. I like to coo like a dove to my granddaughter. Coo coo!

Messages on Twitter are Tweets. Verb is Tweeting. It’s mind-blowing what a privileged and insular existence you lead. But coo coo away.

I didn’t mean to offend again! I’m so confused. I thought “people of color” was something we said now! I did see that young man got fired for saying Kamala Harris was “colored” instead of a “woman of color,” which is fine if he was trying to be snotty but I wasn’t clear whether he did it on purpose, and I totally get it that we say “of color” instead of “colored” now, although sometimes I get confused about that too, because Bill de Blasio made that joke that he was late endorsing Hillary Clinton because he was on “C.P. time”, and Hillary laughed and clapped, but then people said a joke about “colored people time” was maybe okay if a colored person said it —

A colored person? Did you just —

A person of color! A person of color! Sorry! But de Blasio said “colored people time”, and everyone laughed but then everyone said it was cringey because he was, not of any particular — he’s just a big tall white guy? And everyone said it was a tasteless joke for a white guy, and I thought, Gee, if anyone ought to get this stuff right you’d think it’d be the Democratic Mayor of New York who is married to a, who is, has a wife, she’s a woman? Of color?

Stop it. Just stop it.

A sis!

She’s a sis!

Mrs. DeBlasio I mean!

Hello? Are you there?

Do you mean “cis?”

Oh I don’t think so. That can’t be right. It’s sis, right? Like sister?

No you stupid old Karen!

Oh my goodness! That’s — my name is Katherine, but—

Cis! The opposite of trans! Cis, trans, cis, trans!

Cis and trans, like organic chemistry? Ah! I can see how that works. From the Latin?

We say Latinx.

No, ha ha! I mean Latin, the language. The one the Romans spoke. Oh, that reminds me of a beautiful story, and you will love this, I know it will speak to you — it’s from the day I met Martin Luther King! I was so passionate about the Civil Rights Movement, and I went to Selma for the marches, and I met Dr. King. He told me something just — oh, I see you are typing again — I never know if I should wait —

Let me teach you something. It is white privilege bullshit to show off your organic chemistry and your Latin. It is offensive in the extreme to call the cis-gender activist, writer and politician Chirlane Irene McCray “Mrs. de Blasio” — just reducing this person’s lived experience down to a marital status, when by the way she does not use her spouse’s name. And do not think we missed the way you talked about loving everyone red, purple, rainbow “and blue” — do not think we missed that!

You said “blue lives matter!” That is dog whistle racism!

No, please don’t say that! I’m not racist, I’m not! Or maybe I am, there’s science suggesting that everyone has some subconscious racist ideas, and who am I to insist I’m above that? But I’m trying to learn and be a better person all of the time, I go to church, I give money to charitable causes, I even gave to a bail fund for arrested social justice protesters, although I admit I was confused when the bail fund let out accused rapists and stalkers and people who assaulted others with knives instead of nice young mostly peaceful protesters … But I abhor racism, and I’ve been trying to do the right thing, really. I’ve been trying to figure out when I’m supposed to say black, or Black, or BIPOC. I’m terrified to say the wrong thing! I mean, do we even still say African American? Or Native American? Or is it only black now? And is “indigenous” capitalized? And LGBTQ+ — so confusing! I understand L and G, but isn’t G inclusive of L? I guess I understand B and T as separate categories, but then Q seems like a catch-all — and my goodness, who says “Queer” anymore? I would be so afraid to ask someone if they were “Queer,” I’m absolutely sure it would come across wrong! And then the plus sign — I tried to figure it out looking at Wikipedia and learned there’s actually LGBTTQQIAAP. And … oh yes, racism. Racism! It’s bad! And I was so upset about poor Mr. George Floyd’s death, I cried when I saw that video, tears just —

His murder! He was murdered!

Say it!

Suddenly you aren’t so chatty, are you?

See, you not saying “murder” is the same as you insisting that “all lives matter”. You keep trying to have reality your own way!

But murder … Isn’t that for the courts? I feel like we used to say “innocent until proven guilty,” and let even the worst people have a day in court. And it seems like the more information that comes out, the less clear it is what happened that day. If anything, I worry those police officers will get railroaded — which seems unfair especially for the younger officers, because they had called an ambulance, and were worried about poor Mr. Floyd, and were so worried they called the ambulance back to tell them to come faster, and one of them was talking about Mr. Floyd’s eyes beating funny and wondering if he was getting sicker from the drugs in his system, so they seemed like they were sincerely trying to figure out the right thing to do, which I bet it’s hard sometimes to do! And now I see they are going to charge the main officer, the smug one who knelt on poor Mr. Floyd’s neck, with felony tax evasion, because he and his wife didn’t report income from their side gigs doing restaurant work, and registered their car in Florida because it was cheaper. This is getting so complicated and mean-spirited — do we really all have to pile on? Can’t we just let a jury sift through it all?

Anyone who sees a few minutes of that video of a police knee on George Floyd’s neck would be able to stand in righteous judgment and point a finger and scream MUURRRRDDEREEEEER!! That’s why we’ve been burning down buildings, looting and destroying businesses, throwing fireworks and soup cans at police — hundreds of police now have been injured, defund the police! — and vandalizing statues of George Washington. Because a police officer murdered a Black man, and now that police officer’s on trial for murder! That’s why we have to burn down the court houses! That’s why we don’t need police! That’s why we’ve set up guilotines with Teddy bears in them!

Teddy bears? That’s horrifying! And ADORABLE!

Don’t you dare make light of it.

“First they came for the Teddy bears — and I did not speak out, because I was not a Teddy bear.” Ha ha!

Don’t you dare make light of it! This is not some game that has sucked in hundreds of thousands of tightly-wound people who’ve been locked up for months, all around the planet actually, watching hysteria-tinged partisan media reports, with internet algorithms that frogmarch each and every one of us inexorably to incrementally-more extreme and upsetting content, while sociopathic politicians on the left and right egg us on because they each think they’ll come out on top after the country tears itself to pieces, all as a stupid virus has tanked the economy and wrecked our job prospects and incomes for years and years to come, but doesn’t even harm us, because we are young and strong, yet we still end up laid off and wearing these stupid masks and penned up indoors, all to protect stupid white ladies like you, who are old and weak!

I’m so sorry. I really do feel so bad for this generation, and what you must be going through. I really do appreciate the sacrifices you are making, to protect elders like me. If it helps, you could consider that many of us are lifelong enthusiastic taxpayers, and are proud to have the government provide generous relief checks. We tell our Congresspeople this all of the time! One way to look at this would be we are one society, all —

Jesus, with this social distancing, none of us can even have sex anymore!

I know! I have really worried about that for you! I mean, all of that energy has to go somewhere, and there aren’t many constructive outlets left. Have you — sorry, have “we” — thought about jogging?

What makes you think I need to be jogging?

Oh honey, I can’t even see us. I’m sure we are beautiful! If it helps you feel better, you aren’t just wearing a mask for me. You’re doing it for everyone — all lives, but also specifically, if you like, Black lives, since apparently Covid-19 disproportionately —

That’s right! So wear a mask and stay home! Because if you don’t, you could infect someone who you may have already screwed over by the racism built into your oppressive capitalist systems! Black people should wear masks and stay at home too, of course, to protect themselves, unless they are worried about being targeted unfairly by rogue law enforcement for wearing masks, or want to prioritize fighting for social justice, in which case they should not stay at home and not wear masks, to protect themselves! But generally people should stay home, masked, and not come together for anything — not baptisms, or weddings, or funerals— not for anything except large scale, chaotic social justice protests!

Oh my. This is so confusing. I’m trying to understand, but every question I ask, everyone just gets more angry with me.


Are you Twittering again?

Well, thank you for the conversation! I know you young people are always busy. Let’s have this conversation again soon? Maybe … maybe after the Presidential election?



Matt Bivens, MD

Born in DC, studied at UNC-Chapel Hill, now living in Massachusetts. ER physician, EMS medical director, recovering journalist & Russia-watcher.