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Miss America contestant Alicia Cooper
Miss America contestant Alicia Cooper.

Miss America contestant Alicia Cooper said what?

Not this “All Lives Matter” mess again.

The 2017 Miss America Pageant, held on Sunday night, Sept 11, and broadcast into the homes of millions of viewers on ABC, made headlines because of the “politically charged” questions posed to the contestants.

In a move that was almost surely adopted to help boost the program’s ratings, judges — such as R&B singer and dancer Ciara — asked the top seven competitors controversial questions about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, immigration and sexual harassment.

Even the Kaepernick scandal — Question 3 — managed to make the cut. It’s this question, put to contestant Alicia Cooper, who was named Miss Washington this year, that may have left many of us feeling undone. Why? It conjured the demon of “all lives matter” that those of us who support black lives matter have spent countless hours trying to exorcise from national discourse.

To be fair, Ms. Washington’s response seemed to be diplomatically worded:

Question 3: “49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has ignited a national debate by refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. Do you sit with him or stand against him?”

Miss Washington Alicia Cooper: The first thing I want to say is we need to focus on how important the Black Lives Matter issue is, all lives matter in this situation. I don’t necessarily support the fact that he sat out, but I do respect that he took a knee and that people are joining in. Because we need to focus on the resolution to this problem, and we need to come together as a nation to have everyone feel equal in our society.”

Y’all see what she just did there, how she tried to sneak in “all lives matter?” We’re not fooled by all that moderate, liberal verbal cushioning around that plug.

Related: White Folks are Sending Me Death Threats Because #AllLivesMatter

Thing is, as far those of us who champion black lives matter are concerned, the “All Lives Matter” reflex has been sufficiently debunked. And not just by American history.

There are funny cartoons and informative videos on why responding to the Black Lives Matter movement with the slogan “All lives matter” is nothing short of childish. There’s also verifiable evidence that the national anthem we’re trained by uncritical, mindless imitation to stand up for — and place our hands over our heart in allegiance to — is extremely racist.

In typical fashion, the latter point is never broached during Cooper’s answer. And why should it be? After all, this is the Miss America pageant, an uber-patriotic ceremonial lovefest where participants vying for a six-figure money prize and year-long expense account are asked to remember and convincingly emote how much their country proudly and unapologetically subsists on its myths — such as “democracy” and “individualism” — no matter how faulty and unconscionable those myths are. No one would dare break character.

And so, here we are, on standby, at the ready, to emphasize again that this default retort, this rhetorical weapon of whites, continues to be their favorite form of white deflection and remains every bit the dangerous nuisance that it was when first introduced into this new era of the black freedom struggle.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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