The drawback of yard signs outside big houses

A few months ago, my wife moved to Boston for a great job opportunity. I still live in Virginia, but in these months I have (and surely will continue to) travel to Boston to see her. She lives in a pretty nice part of Dorchester in the southern edge of the city of Boston, but lives close to some very nice and affluent suburbs of Boston. When traveling earlier this month, I was struck by two things: first, it was an adjustment to drive by some very large houses, but second, a rather significant number of these houses had Black Lives Matter signs. This was in a town that is not known for its ethnic or socioeconomic diversity, and the houses I most commonly saw with the gambit of social justice yard signs (from Black Lives Matter to Hate Has no Home Here to the signs state “In this house, we believe…” before stating traditionally liberal statements about supporting science, not labeling immigrants as illegal, and so forth) were some of the largest. While a different scenario, it reminded me of my vacation to Mount Desert Island in Maine in June. MDI (where Acadia is) is not at all a diverse place. But some of the wealthiest homes, shops in tony areas, and nature preserves up there had Black Lives Matter signs. I have seen Black men and women routinely wearing Black Lives Matter T-Shirts, or masks, and participating in BLM rallies or movements. My Black neighbors flew a Juneteenth flag and were a big part of the Juneteenth celebrations in town. But what is it about the yard sign? That has been predominantly, in my experience, present in wealthier and whiter neighborhoods. I have noted something similar in a number of other predominantly white organizations; my wife is a rower, and the rowing club closest to her home has a announcement of their commitment to anti-racism. Rowing is not a diverse sport, and in viewing pictures from that rowing club I did not see much of any diversity in its members.

Upon some reflection, I’ve been left with two rather significant lasting thoughts. The first thought, and albeit admittedly a surface thought, has been that’s good. I’m glad that people, especially people in very wealthy neighborhoods where concerns about equity for people of color (specifically Black people) have been lacking, have come around. Yet the second thought, and the one that has been lingering in my mind, has been to think what that sign really means. Most importantly, are these social justice yard signs part of advocacy and a real social means to change, or is it a way to signal support for a movement while maintaining so much of the wealth and privilege that these homeowners (who, per demographic statistics, are probably White). Furthermore, are those with these signs advocating for zoning changes in their town to allow for more affordable housing in their neighborhoods, or are they seeing the inequity elsewhere while not looking at the inequity in their own community. The skeptic in me looks at the latter.

I very well may be wrong here. Some people I know well who live in these communities note that is it a way for White people to pass this message to White people. That is a good point for the need to make a statement. But what good is a statement without action?

I’m not saying to take down Black Lives Matter signs. But I hope, that in these cradles of wealth, this is only a step rather than the step towards eliminating privilege and wealth inequity among the very powerful and wealthy in America.

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John Baker

Teacher, administrator, and educator trying to make a little bit of sense of the world.