THIS week the Black Lives Matter movement has dominated timelines and news reports. The rallying cry can be heard far and wide thanks to the shooting of two more black men by law enforcement officers in the space of a single week. In Louisiana, Alton Sterling, a man selling CDs outside a convenience store, was shot several times in the chest at point-blank range as two policemen pinned him to the floor. In Minnesota, Philando Castile was shot four times by a police officer during a traffic stop as he reached for his licence. They’re not just two more names to compound a shocking statistic – they’re two more lives lost to the circumferential constriction of systemic racism, skin privilege, social injustice and police brutality.

So this week, I and many others have shared news and ideas, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. And each time a white person has chimed in with their oh-so-helpful “all lives matter” riposte. A riposte that holds no water when you take a closer look. Let’s do that.

Imagine for a moment that your house is burning down, you run out into the street and scream, “My house is on fire! Help me!”

Your neighbours look at you, uncomfortable.

“But what about our houses?” they say.

You look back at your burning house, and back at your neighbours, bewildered.

“Yes, but my house is on fire,” you plead. “It’s literally burning to the ground right now.”

They shake their heads, not even offering the vaguest of sympathies.

“All houses matter,” they reply.

Meanwhile, fires rage on, lives are devastated, but no-one hears the screams of horror or pleas for help because they’re too busy fortifying the structures that keep them, and people like them, safe. There is a reason listening to others is at the beating heart of progress. If you don’t think it’s fair, or the idea of a different group being the centre of attention makes you feel uncomfortable, then good. Notice that feeling. Imagine that was a feeling that shaped your entire reality. That’s why everyone needs to stop saying “all lives matter”. Seriously.

Being born white means coming into the world with a magical suit of armour. You’ve inherited the right signifiers that allow you to be dropped into almost any situation and feel safe and secure that your appearance is not acting against you. You can succeed in life without being seen as an outlier. You can fail without it being attributed to your race. You don’t have to prime your children about how to navigate a system of structural racism. You can easily buy magazines and newspapers, or watch television programmes, that are full of people who look like you. Most things in the world put you front and centre, and actively work to keep you there.

You live within a system where your white skin offers you protection. You need to be self-aware enough to realise that is your reality, but not everyone’s. The same system that protects you puts those with black skin at risk. Not just from cruel words, stereotypes or projections – actual physical risk. Bleeding wounds. Broken bones. Dead bodies.

AS a white person, you’re also afforded the benefit of not being asked to answer for all people of your race. This week, I watched the Dallas Black Lives Matter protests and soon after heard the news that 11 police officers had been shot. Five of them dead. My heart hurt as I knew how quickly the acts of a few would be conflated with the movement. I could see how it would be weaponised to silence the vital message carried by black voices. As white people, we’re never asked to speak for all people like us. The actions and motivations of the few are never conflated with our own as default.

Then there’s the fact that we don’t have to video our own deaths to be taken seriously. We can die with dignity, in private, without having to consciously choose to share our most intimate and personal torment for the advancement of justice. Just as in 1955, when Emmett Till’s mother chose to shelve her own pain and show her son’s mutilated, lynched body in an open casket at a public funeral, black Americans are still having to display their horrors openly in a quest for bodily legitimacy.

I watched the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I watched the videos, and I wish I hadn’t. I watched Lavish Reynolds calmly speak to the police officer who was pointing a gun and screaming at her, as she live-streamed the last moments of Philando Castile’s life ebbing away. She spoke calmly to the hysterical officer, compliant and still, as her boyfriend lay slumped besides her, bleeding to death, with no medical attention from the other officers on the scene.

Oh, and her four-year-old daughter was in the car with them. I keep thinking about that little girl, whose world will be shaped forever by that encounter. A child who should be thinking about whatever four-year-olds think of, but has witnessed a brutal, first-hand demonstration of the gaping fissures in American society. As a white person, I can be fairly sure my children will never have to witness death and injustice because my car was pulled over.

I wish I hadn’t seen those clips – but then again, I don’t need to film the death of white people or march in the street or start a political movement just to ask for my body to matter.

The clutch of privilege and oppression damages everyone. We can never truly progress until those in the dominant group acknowledge their position of inherited power. Until those of us with certain unearned benefits take stock of our own relative comfort, and speak out against the oppression of others, nothing will change. Our voices are loud and authoritative by default. That’s why we must know when to speak up or pipe down to allow others to say what needs to be said.

So please stop saying all lives matter. Of course all lives matter. But stop saying it, because every time you do, think about whose lives are you helping by saying that? Are you helping the cause, or are you silencing black voices that need to be amplified? Right now those black lives need your attention, because they don’t matter. We live in a world where the default heuristics of a person with black skin are slaves and criminals, so we must use our automatic position to shout back and to elevate those voices in the name of justice.

No-one is saying only black lives matter – but white lives have never been at risk like this. Think about that before you reach for that “all”.

United States: Tensions high at rallies over Baton Rouge police death