Do black lives matter in the Southern suburbs?

In our neighborhood in the Nashville suburbs, almost every house has a yard sign that reads, “Drive like your children live here,” with a heart emblem around it. There are neon-colored, plastic figurines waving flags that say, “SLOW,” at other houses, and the moms shove them farther into the intersections so that even if cars don’t obey the message, they will at least have to slow down to avoid the obstacle. 

I’ve lived in the Nashville suburbs for almost six years, and I can tell you, these people care about their children. In the darkest days of quarantine, people in our neighborhood organized a teddy bear hunt, perching stuffed animals in trees or in swing sets for lonely, bored kids to spot on their walks. 

Everything in the suburbs is geared toward children: the restaurants, the parks, the shopping carts with miniature plastic steering wheels that make kids feel like they’re driving through the aisles. 

Which is why it’s so hard for me to understand their deafening silence when it comes to other people’s kids. 

The first time my Black Lives Matter sign was vandalized, my family and I were on vacation. Apparently someone in a truck pulled up and cut off the word “black” with scissors before peeling out into the darkness, leaving a stump of a sign that just said, “LIVES MATTER,” in all caps. 

The replacement BLM sign was vandalized after my husband had hired a window cleaner off Thumbtack. The man turned sour the moment he got out of his car and noticed the BLM sign, and he then seemed to target it with his pressure washer, so much so that the words curled away from the cardboard by the time he was done. 

I am by no means claiming victimhood. As a white woman in the suburbs, I have the privilege of feeling merely annoyed rather than physically threatened by these acts of racism and belligerence. I’m not even the target. Still, the premeditation— the scissors, the timing — chilled me. I had assumed that, while too polite to discuss politics, my neighbors were roughly on the same page as I was. 

I had assumed that when a child like Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin is killed, that my neighbors were quietly mourning in their homes too. I had assumed that when my friends post their happy Easter pics on Facebook among the news stories about more dead black boys and men, that they were simply too private or too polite to post about “real stuff.”

Now I don’t know. 

I get the bends when I wade through news stories about police violence against black and brown people — and black and brown children — only to attend a birthday party where people talk about sports and movies and developmental milestones. 

Do these people live in the same country that I do?

The “Drive like your kids live here,” sign has always struck me as especially peculiar. It doesn’t just call people to a specific action, like Stop, Slow down, or Yield. Instead, it asks them to imagine something: the consuming, limitless love a parent has for a child. 

“Remember”, the sign seems to say, “how your newborn felt in your arms, a limp sack of warm rice pudding that held the world in its blinking eyes? Hold that in your mind and drive accordingly.” 

The sign demands empathy, in hopes that it will yield care and concern and a lighter foot on the accelerator. 

I don’t share the Black Lives Matter sign anecdotes for brownie points. I realize that putting up a yard sign is the absolute bare minimum in terms of allyship and advocacy. But it still surprised me how awkward and vulnerable I felt putting it up in the front yard, how uncomfortable it was breaking the suburban silence. 

I heard someone say once that the biggest problem black women have with white women is that white women don’t care about their children. I can see why. 

The priest at my church addresses racism, and I’m lucky enough to work with a team of women who address it on the Cool Mom Picks blog. But for the most part, it never surfaces in conversation with my friends or my neighbors. 

I’m grateful for the concern of the other parents, who help care for my own kids. And yes, I do want people to drive as if their own children live here. But mostly, I want to see signs that say, Vote like your kids are brown. Advocate like your kids live in the inner city. Organize like your child was shot in a dark back alley with his empty hands in the air.

When we moved into our new house, our first moving company ran out of time before their next job and left half our belongings strewn around the driveway at our old house. My husband got on the phone and found a team available to help us out at such late notice, and they happened to be all black. 

They worked until 10 at night to get us safely relocated. In our haste we’d asked them to just dump everything in the house and garage, not to worry about assembling or setting up. But the next day my husband saw that they had staked our BLM sign into the ground on our lawn. 

Our HOA doesn’t allow political signs. We took it down. But every day when I see it in my garage, I am shamed by it. That such a thing should even be political, when “drive like your kids live here,” isn’t. 

We’re all just trying to protect our babies.

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