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Credit: Alana Kelly

Harvard graduate Claira Janover recently went viral after using an analogy on TikTok where she threatens to “stab” anyone who says “all lives matter” to emphasize the disproportionate reality of saying “all lives matter” in comparison to “Black Lives Matter.” She received an abundance of backlash, with some labeling her TikTok video as hate speech. She has also been unacceptably harassed and racially profiled. Her dedication to the Black Lives Matter movement has led her to proudly stand by her use of the violent analogy. 

Claira’s passion is in the right place. However, imagery attached to inflicting brutal harm on anyone is not acceptable. I would never verbalize the words Claira used. There are better analogies and metaphors to convey the importance of Black lives, which do not provide an image of blood and victimization. Violent analogies automatically plant a seed for pushback. They create a space for vilification. The metaphor Claira used proves her point, but the audience is simultaneously left with a violent and bloody portrait associated with Black Lives Matter. Once that image is presented, she gives her audience a reason to be against the movement.

Every day, I come across multiple analogies related to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement on social media. The amount of daily content covering the movement can be exhausting. The exhaustion is not related to the movement itself, but rather the sheer fact that we live in a society where a marginalized group of people have to jump through creative hoops, both in real life and virtually, to validate the importance of their livelihood. Everyday the fight continues through social media, street paintings, tough family conversations, and protests

These tactics are thought-provoking. They work. They allow people to visualize injustice from a personal view. Still, there’s pushback. Our nation’s leader uses his platform to associate the “Black lives matter” phrase with a symbol of hate. Black justice is a frustratingly malnourished aspect of our society. Everyone who knows this promotes justice in their own way. Analogies and metaphors are devices for that cause. 

The use of violent words will always be controversial. Do not use words that demonstrate harm to others. As proven, they can easily be used against you, which ultimately detracts from your core intention to promote awareness. Violent words costed Claira her job. Words have the power to be interpreted endlessly. Use them decisively and nonviolently. 

Metaphors and analogies have been devices for influence and compassion since the dawn of communication. The Black Lives Matter movement has used videos that illuminate burning houses and restaurant visits to advance equality for Black lives. With the underlying truth being that our nation and society have never valued Black lives, imaginative expressions proving the importance of Black lives are abundant. They are relevant and necessary. But we must be careful with how we use figurative language. It’s more important to provoke the substance behind the usage of metaphors and analogies than it is to get caught up in defending bad word choices.

JESSICA GOODING is a rising College senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania studying History and English. Her email address is jgooding@sas.upenn.edu.

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