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Is our activism paper thin?

Byline: Rachel Hale

As a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, I signed petitions, made donations and read anti-racism educational texts. As a student journalist, I covered racism when a local Buffalo Wild Wings asked a mostly Black group of customers to move tables. But it wasn’t until I witnessed bigotry in a face-to-face setting that I was forced to acknowledge that my activism as a person of privilege must extend beyond what is comfortable in the fight to create real change in American racial inequality.

In a now viral video at a Naperville, Illinois cleanup following riots over the death of George Floyd, a man is seen berating my friends and me for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, yelling that, “this is a good city; you guys want to ruin it,” as women in the background rip down hearts with phrases like “BLM” and “Spread Love” displayed on a boarded-up store. As the footage garnered thousands of views, my friends and I made plans to return the following day, announcing plans for a “Hearts for Peace” event on social media in hopes others might join.

The next day, our small group turned into a collective effort of hundreds of people who came back to the spot of the video, putting up thousands of hearts around Downtown Naperville to make a clear point: hate is not tolerated here.

Walking through the city’s streets, I was overcome by the outpouring of support from people of all ages, including teachers, business owners and families, some of whom arrived with their own homemade hearts, and others who made them there. Along with paper hearts with messages from “End police brutality,” to “Be the change” to “Black is Beautiful,” multicolored chalk covered a sidewalk with the names of victims of police brutality, and a nearby store window portrayed a full sized mural reading “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.” In the coming days, a plywood painted portrait of Breonna Taylor, another victim of police brutality, was placed in front of a local restaurant, a mural of George Floyd was painted on another nearby window, and more stores asked the community to put up hearts.

Yet, even as I appreciated the overwhelming support residents showed for the Black Lives Matter movement, I couldn’t help but question how many of these people were also actively signing petitions, writing letters to their elected officials and calling police departments to demand change. Even worse, I quietly wondered how many people walking through Naperville that day would vote for President Donald Trump in November, who just last week retweeted a now deleted video of supporters yelling “white power” at a protest, and said that painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ down New York’s Fifth Avenue would be a “symbol of hate.”

That’s not to say that the event didn’t help create change, because it showed that for every bigot, there are a thousand more people that believe in unity. Most importantly, perhaps, it gave people hope, from the young children in attendance to the elderly grandparents who lived through the Civil Rights Movement and are still waiting for equality.

My whole life, participating in the conversation about race has been a choice as someone who benefits from white privilege. Supported by America’s whitewashed school curriculum and my childhood in a homogenous town, I was never forced to have uncomfortable conversations about race or my privilege. However, now more than ever, I realize that engaging in the fight for equality is not a choice, but a responsibility that I owe to the betterment of our country. Our future growth comes from actively fighting racism, not only when it is overt and captured on camera, but when it is in our classrooms, hospitals and workplaces, and even in the biases we carry ourselves. To truly consider ourselves allies, we must actively work to dismantle the institutions that enforce systematic racism in our country, even when — especially when— there isn’t someone giving us a pat on the back for doing the right thing. As our social media feeds slowly return to “normal” and the Black Lives Matter hashtag stops trending as heavily, we must remember this hope and use it to continue making change, because there is no growth in our complacency.

When the last heart in Downtown Naperville falls down, I hope that the community’s passion to create change remains. We must make sure our efforts to fight racism extend beyond our comfort zone — or else our activism is merely paper thin.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Submitted Content
Author:Rachel Hale
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Jul 29, 2020
Words:794
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