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Melanie Rodenbough: Signs of the times, some uplifting, some disturbing

Melanie Rodenbough: Signs of the times, some uplifting, some disturbing

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Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind

Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

— Five Man Electrical Band

We are thick in the season of political signs. We put them up because we want others to know who we support or because we want to publicize a candidate. Unfortunately sometimes these signs are stolen, presumably due to the thief’s thin skin.

There’s a different kind of sign that is a growing presence in suburban yards. It proclaims a set of beliefs, usually framed as “In this house we believe …” The statement of belief varies from sign to sign, although some phrases are common to most.

I have one of these signs in my yard. It reads:

In this house we believe:

Black Lives Matter

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Science is Real

Love is Love

Kindness is Everything

If Mashable is to be believed (June 16, 2020), this sign was created the day after Trump was elected, by a librarian in Wisconsin named Kristin Garvey. She used various phrases that were already publicly known. (“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” dates from a 1995 Hillary Clinton speech, for example.) She says she created the sign, lettered by hand, to challenge herself to learn more about each of the causes they represented. She had no idea others would see the sign and immediately understand its potential as a rallying cry for those causes, all threatened it seemed by Trump’s presidency.

But why decorate my yard with a pre-fabricated statement of beliefs? One fair response is that I’m “virtue signaling” — that new term that describes those of us who do or say certain things just to appear virtuous to others. I don’t think that was my primary motivation.

I ordered my sign in July after I read the account of the affluent Wake Forest neighborhood where a neighbor sent an anonymous letter to a bi-racial couple commanding them not to put up a “Black Lives Matter” sign. As reported in The (Raleigh) News & Observer, the letter said, “Please remember that the rest of us live in an upscale neighborhood and have spent the extra money to stay out of mixed neighborhoods and or the ghetto. Please keep your husband and teenage kids well behaved and orderly because no one is interested in your or their struggles.”

I was horrified, as were many of the couple’s other neighbors who came to their defense. I imagined how I’d react if something like that happened in my neighborhood (not likely, I must say, in defense of all the good neighbors with which I’m blessed). How could someone spew such overt racism to a neighbor?

Lo and behold, just a few weeks ago I read a similar story. This time it was a neighborhood in New Hanover County. The offense was flying a Mexican flag from the family’s porch. That family also received an anonymous letter, laced with profanity directing them to “take the (expletive) flag down or feel my wrath.” Other neighbors rallied around them and got their own Mexican flags to fly. Good for them.

And finally, an anonymous letter complaining about the “Black Lives Matter” line on a sign like mine showed up in our own city (News & Record, Oct. 13). That thin-skinned author identified himself or herself as a police officer and made a veiled threat to the homeowner.

Call my sign my affirmative defense against such shenanigans.

Admittedly my sign also proclaims something about who I am and what my husband and I think about certain topics. I like the word “value” more than “virtue,” though. Every value statement on the sign is supported by Christian writers whom I have read and studied. The statements remind me of whom I strive to be, however imperfectly.

Maybe I am also value-signaling. So be it. It’s a good time to ponder and share what, and whom, we value. Hopefully we act — and vote — based on those values.

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