After former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder, Lisa Granade, a 40-year-old White woman, finally got around to putting up a sign on her property, in an overwhelmingly White Seattle neighborhood. Granade chose a black flag with a rainbow-colored fist clenched in solidarity, hanging it on a street-facing fence alongside banners supporting LGBTQ rights and opposing gun violence.
And that’s how she ended up standing in front of her house getting yelled at and called a “racist” by another White woman in athleisure wear.
“Put your little signs up, you . . .” the woman screams — and continues her taunt with three words, one of which is “instigating” and the other two of which cannot be repeated here.
Granade took a video capturing part of the incident, which later went viral online. It shows the stranger yelling while walking down a sloping street, whipping around intermittently to yell some more.
“I was very shocked,” Granade told The Washington Post, “because honestly there’s more BLM flags than there are Black people in my neighborhood.”
Political signs, when they are ubiquitous, can make support for a candidate or cause seem overwhelming. Support for Black Lives Matter may indeed be high: A March poll conducted online by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found 65 percent of Americans said they supported Black Lives Matter — similar to the 63 percent who indicated support in a Post-ABC telephone poll last July.
But sympathy for the movement is hardly unanimous. Granade’s experience with the athleisure-clad sidewalk shouter made it clear to her that there were people in her affluent liberal enclave who weren’t ready for social change. They wouldn’t even tolerate a sign.
Rayneese Primrose feels a certain attachment to the phrase "Black Lives Matter," which she says she's seen online in Etsy shops, written on signs for sale next to red Make America Great Again hats.
“I want to be protective of it,” says Primrose, who is African American. “I don’t want it to be abused or just used or sold with the intent of cashing in on the phrase with the seller not even understanding the weight behind it.”
And how does that make her feel?
“Pretty annoyed,” she said. “I feel like that’s further working to help dilute the message that needs to keep strong. I don't want it to become like a commercial slogan where it’s one of those, like ‘Eat Pray Love,’ or something like that, where no one gives it a second thought when it happens. I want it to continue to be political.”
Before the pandemic, Primrose worked at the Metropolitan Opera House as a costume production supervisor. But she got furloughed in March 2020 as productions across the country shut down. That June she created a BLM sign that depicts fists being raised amid sunflowers. She started selling it online in her Etsy store. Curious about her customers, Primrose says she sometimes uses Google Earth to look at where her signs are shipped. Sometimes the orders come from areas she didn’t expect, like rural places and gated communities.
In June 2020, Michael Green was sitting at home, outraged by Floyd’s death, watching protesters march across his screen. He was heartened by the people taking to the streets but noticed that a lot of marchers were holding homemade Black Lives Matter signs scrawled on cardboard. He thought the protesters could use an actual banner.
“As a flag nerd, I was like, well shoot, maybe this is a way I could help the movement,” he says.
So, he started Flags For Good, a company that sells a variety of BLM flags, in addition to flags supporting other causes (feminism, gun control, the environment) and regular state flags. He says he donates a portion of his sales to causes such as the House of GG, an Arkansas retreat for Black trans women.
When Green calls himself a flag nerd he’s not exaggerating. He’s given a TED talk on the subject. “Even if you don’t think about flags, you do,” he says in one talk. “They make us swell with pride or burn with hatred.”
Flags for Good was Green’s response to what he sees as the dominance of White conservatives when it comes to political symbols, citing the red MAGA hats and Trump flags that blanketed the candidate’s rallies. In fact, Green thinks they were so successful that Trump even co-opted the American flag, to the point that Green did not even want to hang one outside his home, for fear that it would be interpreted as an endorsement of Trump’s actions as president.
Green, who is White, says he began handing his flags out at local protests while selling them to customers online. One of his best-selling items? A black flag with rainbow-colored fist — the one Lisa Granade was hanging on her fence the day a passerby called her a racist.
Granade became aware of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” when it grew into a rallying cry after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., but the audacity of white supremacists during the Trump presidency made the phrase seem more necessary and urgent.
“I got into brouhahas with family members that didn’t understand why I was so upset about Charlottesville,” she says. To her, the persistence of American racism was only becoming more apparent. “The more I saw it, the more I saw it,” she says.
After the Chauvin conviction, Granade decided, for the first time in her life, to express her political convictions in the form of physical banners. She wanted to remind people that the work of fighting racism wasn’t over just because the trial of Floyd’s killer had ended with a “guilty” verdict.
“I kind of had this concern that people are gonna act like, ‘All right, racism’s fixed,’ ” she says.
It’s not. The signs are everywhere.