I have always been a longform type of guy. I usually don’t bother with Twitter and stuff like that. I find life too complex, communication too subtle. Catch phrases serve political candidates or social movements. They communicate power through their repetition, and whether you share in that power depends more on what you believed before the hashtag came along.
In the winter of 2019-2020, I bought a house in southwest Minneapolis, and I did not have a chance to meet many of my neighbors before COVID-19 shut us all up indoors. So, in the days and weeks after Goerge Floyd was killed, I was a Black man living in a new neighborhood surrounded by White people I couldn’t talk to.
Seeing Black Lives Matter signs pop up in a few of my neighbors’ yards made me feel quite a bit better. When I saw those signs it felt a little like someone had set out some flowers on a table for me and whoever else was passing by that day.
But I recognize that lawn signs don’t always look like flowers. They can communicate your values, and they can be an appeal for solidarity. But they can also draw a line in the sand or even appear as a show of force to people who’ve identified with some opposing party. If my most frequent discourse with a person that disagrees with me is a sign that identifies me as their opposition, where can we go from there?
I don’t have a Black Lives Matter sign in my own yard partly mostly I am a Black man who has lived and worked around White people basically ever since college, so I feel like I am a Black Lives Matter sign. But I am also a cautious person. As a Black man who grew up passing between Black and White communities every day, I have grown accustomed to taking care to make sure that I’m understood.
So let me be clear: I am not saying you should ditch your signs. But, as Election Day approaches, I hope you will be analytical about their shortcomings, and you should strive to compensate for them. In the eyes of my out of state friends and family, Minnesotans have a reputation for being awkward, cold and distant.
This disposition can leave us trapped in our homes behind our lawn signs as the snow months approach. Let’s get past that. Maybe put up another sign that says, “I can’t capture my beliefs in a pithy hashtag, but stop by sometime and we can talk about it.” Or maybe let’s spend more time in our front yards, set up some chairs in front of our signs, and invite people passing by.
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