Neighbors offer white folk a gentle push to embrace Black Lives Matter movement.
Black Lives Matter signs are sprouting on lawns in Ravenna, one of Seattle’s least racially diverse neighborhoods.
A group of friends are going door-to-door distributing signs and having conversations about racism and justice. Terry Farrah, who is white and started the project, wrote to me because she wants more people to embrace the signs and the cause they represent.
“The simplest reason to put a BLM sign in the yard is so black neighbors and passers-by can feel visible and supported,” she wrote.
The long struggle toward a country in which black lives matter as much as any others requires the work of everyone who believes human rights apply to all people. There isn’t a white side or a black side, and no middle ground for people who don’t fit into one of those end pieces. There is a just side and an unjust side.
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Chris Maykut, owner of Chaco Canyon Organic Cafes, gave an employee in the Greenwood location permission to put up a sign after the shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. A woman called and said she would no longer patronize the business. A supervisor explained it was part of Chaco’s mission to “ensure that our planet is as good as possible for as many beings as possible, humans and animals alike,” Maykut said.
Another woman came into the cafe and yelled “Don’t all lives matter?” and then, “especially blue lives.” And a man angered by the sign wrote on Yelp, “As a Phinney Ridge business owner, we hope the neighborhood will cease in supporting such a bigoted group of people. Good luck racists.”
(Unfortunately not all lives matter equally. President Obama tried to explain that in a speech in which he cited data on racial disparities and said BLM is about “recognizing that there is a particular burden being placed on a group of our fellow citizens.”)
The reactions persuaded Maykut that the sign needs to stay up. It’s spurring positive conversations.
The employee who suggested the sign, Grey Ellis, said, “It’s important not to make black people have to explain themselves because they are constantly having to do that. It’s important for white people to step up and start answering the questions the Black Lives movement has raised.”
In Ravenna, Farrah and her partner, Zarina Parpia, along with a neighbor, Kira McCoy, talked about choosing not to stand on the sidelines.
Farrah said she grew up with white privilege, the granddaughter of immigrants from Syria and Lebanon. “I was a child during the civil rights struggles of the ’60s,” Farrah said, “and I wished at the time I was old enough to participate.” She’s 56 and said these times offer her a chance to make a difference.
Parpia felt anger and dismay. These were Seattle people, progressives. Parpia, 35, grew up in Spokane and Seattle, a child of immigrants from India, and while she was concerned about sexism, she didn’t really think about racism. A few months before the rally, her workplace began an equity-training program that helped her understand “how we’re upholding systems of oppression.”
First, Farrah and Parpia put a sign in front of the house they share with three other people. McCoy moved nearby and last fall helped take signs door to door. They started with 10, then another batch, but the third group of 10 sat in the attic for lack of takers.
Some people said no without giving a reason. Others had specific concerns: It won’t do any good. I’ll have to ask my spouse. I’m against racism, but don’t agree with BLM tactics. I’m afraid the police wouldn’t protect me.
The conversations were sometimes hard, but worthwhile, and recent shootings re-energized the three, so they are doing it again.
They joined with a larger group of friends to make their own signs with help from a friend who owns a printing business in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood. They’re distributing them now and doing it in person because they believe it’s the conversations that matter most, particularly white people talking to other white people.
McCoy, 26, said she is white and acknowledges her own biases and racism. She’s like the people she’s talking with, except she knows some things they don’t. She learned some things about systemic racism in graduate school, but she’s learned the deeper part from her partner and from friends who are people of color.
Maybe they’ll prompt more people to see the inequality in our communities and even join the side working for a more just world.