Beth Newman: Mural provides a way to work toward needed change
To say that adding a "Blue Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" sign to the town lawn to "balance" anything out completely misses the point. There is no balance to reassert. We are currently out of balance to an extreme, and that is why Black Lives need to Matter.
It is a common conversation these days: One person says, "Black lives matter," then another responds, "No, all, (and/or blue), lives matter." It is also a complete misunderstanding of what the phrase "Black lives matter" means. The person on the receiving end interprets the phrase as "Black lives matter more than any other lives." Saying that Black lives matter does not mean that other lives do not. "All Lives (and/or Blue) Lives Matter" redirects the attention from Black lives, who are the ones in peril. Others', and police officers', lives are not.
"All Lives Matter" may be stated as a way to put everyone's life on equal footing and convey a sense of unity, but it diminishes the violence and discrimination Black and brown citizens experience every day. If my leg was broken, I would not ask the doctor to first pay attention to my arm — "What about my arm?!" — as it would be absurd; my arm isn't what is hurt. My leg is broken. It needs attention and to be cared for so that the rest of my body can work and be whole. Right now, Black and brown residents are my broken arm. They are the ones whose lives are in danger.
We vote in our Select Board and trust them to represent us. If residents are upset that they were somehow left out of a vote, they should perhaps begin to attend SB meetings. They might consider how we can all better feel heard, and address that through the appropriate channels. If anyone feels their opinion was not considered, they can deal with their feelings appropriately or show up to meetings and add their comments to the conversations.
We all have a basic right to feel we belong and cared about and welcome in Bennington. Many People of Color in Bennington do not feel that way, and are leaving the area. Saying that "All lives matter" in a response to this inequality is like saying all houses matter, and pointing a fire department's hose on the neighboring house, NOT the one on fire. It truly would be as illogical.
Many of us have been watching and hearing the horrific news reports of Black and brown people being murdered and killed and have been looking for a way to respond. In our local community the need has been great for the community to come together and address the systemic racism and bias, and the way that BIPOC residents do not feel fairly treated. We need to understand that all residents deserve and need to feel safe and welcome.
Art, and the Bennington Street Mural has been a path to respond, and a way for us to open these conversations, to bring us together and to begin to heal and change the culture of our town. We need to support our brown and Black neighbors who have been feeling marginalized and unsafe and say we care. We need to work towards change.
As the previous article about signs for the town hall and the August 30th protesters exhibit, the culture in Bennington is in need of a change. Perhaps it is not yet true that as a community we agree on how to address this, it is however, our hope and intention (those who came together to plan and create the mural) to stand and claim that Black Lives here Matter. The truth is, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by police violence and systematic racism in our nation. When we are able to end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black, Indigenous People of Color, every single person in this world has a better shot at freedom.
Beth Newman is one of the organizers and designers of the Black Lives Matter street mural in Bennington. She lives in Bennington.
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