Signs and perspective taking

President* Trump,

Two mornings ago I came across a unicorn sign, as in a very cool one-of-a-kind sign (at least to me). It looks like a purchased or manufactured sign as it’s professionally done and has the same basic structure as all the BLM and “In This House We Believe…” yard signs, but it doesn’t have any footnote-ish information attributing it to a particular group or company. The sign has a white background and two columns comprised of 5 short phrases each (which I’ll get to in a second). The upper leftmost 3 phrases are printed in blue text and the rest are in red text, which, just in case you’re having trouble visualizing it, results in an American flag-like design.

Now that you maybe, sort of have the layout down, I’ll give you the phrases:

Dream like Martin

Fight like Malcolm

Lead like Harriet

Believe like Thurgood

Educate like W.E.B.

Write like Maya

Speak like Frederick

Think like Garvey

Build like Madam C. J.

Challenge like Rosa

It’s really cool. It’s on the same street as the lone Trumpian house in our neighborhood, which I passed a few minutes after seeing the “Dream, Fight, Lead….” sign. The Trump-fans still have all the pro-you bumper stickers on their car and their walkway is lined with knee-high American flags, but so far they’ve not posted a 2020 re-election sign – or at least if they have, it hasn’t stayed there. What’s new on that little section of the street is that one of their next-door neighbors has filled their front windows with homemade BLM and unity signs. They weren’t there a couple of weeks ago and neither were the more polished BLM signs and Gay Pride flags and banners at other homes up and down that block.

I’ve wondered before about how useful/not useful it is for all these white families (most likely, anyway, given the neighborhood demographics) to have signs up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ rights. Like, is all this sign posting just an easy performative exercise signaling some “woke-ness” but doesn’t really mean anything? I don’t know, but after seeing all the new signage popping up around the pro-Trump house it seems like a lot of white people are trying to signal to other white people (again, given neighborhood demographics) that they think it’s important to elevate antiracism (etc.).

Picking up on the seed watering theme from yesterday I’ve no doubt that lots of the posted signs that might look like good seeds are duds and aren’t going to grow anything else, but even if only 10% of the sign/seeds sprout and bear fruit, there will be a whole lot more of us nourishing social justice so it makes sense to keep the sign/seed spreading going.

The other potential utility of such signs in predominantly white neighborhoods is that they bring basic awareness of Black (and queer and Muslim and….) people and the injustices they face to many more white people than would otherwise be the case if we were just relying on our own white circles. Segregation by race and by social strata does wonders for allowing white and wealthier people to stay oblivious to the day-to-day lives and challenges of BIPOC and poor people – almost as if by design… Hmm. Actually, this is by design.

From here, we can think about signs in a broader sense and look at how signs of all kinds convey information – signs of prosperity, signs of decay, etc. If we consider that whites are generally buffered from the signs and signals of injustice that are apparent in many inner city areas, then even though they are anemic, sterile (comfortable) stand-ins for real information, social justice yard signs at least poke at the consciousness and consciences of likely otherwise completely oblivious whites. As lame and limited as this is, it’s something. At least I hope it is.

May we be safe from obliviousness – both the harm it visits on us and on others.
May those of us who haven’t had to, be willing to practice perspective taking.
May we strengthen our collective capacity for facing the truth.
May we accept that the status quo needs to go.

Tracy Simpson

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