our town

Images Cinema hosted a screening of “Not in Our Town” presented by Greylock Together (a local activism group). I took notes during the post-film discussion, and here’s what I came away with:

~ In order to prevent and address hate crimes in our community, everyone needs to take responsibility for what happens and be present for one another. This makes everyone safer.

~ We need total commitment from police and political leaders to respond to hate crimes when they happen.

~ We need more Black Lives Matter signs. These small symbols of acceptance and unity work best when EVERYONE has them. If there are only a few, and one gets stolen or vandalized, people might be nervous to put them out. If every house has one, it shows that we all support the movement and believe that Black Lives Matter and the vandals would see that they are outnumbered.

This feels like a really important note. Having a sign in our yards, or a decal in our windows, is such a small and simple (and inexpensive) act. But a large number of people displaying these signs makes such a big statement. We can say, “Of course most of Williamstown supports the Black Lives Matter movement,” but if there are only a few signs scattered around town, it doesn’t really look like it. This is a very important time. We are a mostly white town. We need to show our support, to ally ourselves, to use our privilege for good. It’s really easy to get a sign. There’s no good reason not to. Imagine if every lawn had a Black Lives Matter sign. And a rainbow flag. And Welcome signs written in Arabic and Hebrew and Spanish. What a big statement that would make to the rest of the country.  

~ When someone has been targeted or made a victim of hate crimes, we need to ask, “How can I support you?” And then show up for them.

~ We all have to work on the subtle, underlying feelings of hate/racism/sexism/bigotry in order to prevent bigger incidents.

~ To be supportive means to take deliberate and concrete action.

~ We need public displays of holidays from different religions/cultures, not just Christmas.

~ We need a blanket visual symbol to use throughout the county, unifying us with the other nearby towns instead of keeping ourselves so separate.

 

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a is for activist

Age six, first grade. We lived in Denver and I took the bus an hour and a half across the city to my elementary school. Most of the kids I spent time with were not white. I was not aware of this, being only six-years-old and not knowing yet. One day I asked my mom to braid my hair like my friend Shannon’s. She obliged, making a bunch of tiny braids held with barrettes at the ends.

That morning at school a girl came up to me and said, “Why don’t you paint your face brown, too?”

I didn’t know that girl, and I didn’t understand what she said or why she was upset. She wasn’t any older than me, but she was aware of her color in a way that I was not. I was white and never had to be told it.

I told my mom what happened and asked her why the girl had reacted that way. I don’t remember what my mom said, I wish I did. But I do know that I came out of that moment knowing that I was white and that girl was black, and my friend Shannon was black, and it wasn’t appropriate for me to copy her hairstyle.

A couple years later we moved to a suburb called Broomfield. Something felt strange about the town, an unsettling vibe. When I expressed to my mom that something felt “off” in this new town she said, “That’s because everyone is white.” There really was something unnerving about being surrounded by almost 100% white people, even being white myself. I was the only Jewish kid in my class and I remember one day a girl came up to me and said:

“Isn’t it weird not celebrating your birthday?”
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Because you’re not allowed to celebrate any holidays.” she said.
“Do you think I’m Jehovah’s Witness?” I said. “I’m Jewish.”
“Oh. Same thing. They both start with a J.”

The following year, fourth grade, a bully in my class called me a “dirty little Jewish girl.” One day that bully let me use her markers and gave them to me afterwards. I thought it was a kindness, but she told me, “I had to give them to you because once you touched them I didn’t want them anymore.”

What I’m thinking about as I write this, the reason I’m writing it, is trying to figure out how to teach my white male child about his own privilege, about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, how our government/society values certain people above others and how that is wrong. About police brutality. About Black Lives Matter. About speaking up. Using his own brain. Standing up for what is right, for other people, in situations that are not easy.

I’m trying to remember being a kid myself, and how I learned about these things. When did I fail? When did I not speak up? When was I aware and kind and brave? I’m trying to be my best self and set a good example and be aware of my words and listen and give him the tools to make things better. To be a better person. To be kind. To help. To be an activist/advocate/ally. To love. To be angry when bad things happen. To use that anger to make positive change. To vote. To live his life in a way that creates the world as it should be.