The Media School

Social justice yard signage gains traction in Bloomington

December 3rd, 2020 by
Photograph by Jake Taylor

Bloomington community member Liam Hombson placed social justice messages across his lawn. He is one of the residents who have contributed to the increase in social justice signage this summer and fall.

A four-foot-wide flag reading “Black Lives Matter” hangs from the porch of Liam Hombson, whose yard is covered with progressive slogans. One sign reads “Carbon Neutral.” Another reads “I’m not Black, but I see you.” One, which he created himself out of cardboard, reads “History has its eyes on you!”

“When history looks back at what’s happening now, when today is history, there’s going to be a consensus on what was right and what was wrong,” he said.

Hombson is one Bloomington resident who has contributed to a surge of yard signs in Bloomington throughout this summer and fall. While some of these signs have followed the traditional route of having political candidates’ names and logos, others have included messages of social justice.

Christopher DeSante researches race, political ideology and partisanship in the United States at Indiana University. He said the social justice signs are an effect of polarization and that they are not changing many opinions.

“It’s not that the yard signs are driving polarization,” he said. “It’s the polarization is driving the outcomes. Where when one sign is placed in someone’s yard, how long does it take for neighbors to do the same?”

DeSante said communities are already segregated by political ideology, and so the signs in Bloomington just reaffirm established ideas.

“Just displaying these things in our yard, we’re only displaying them to people who think like us,” he said.

DeSante said the level of commitment is small and sees the signs as “virtue signaling.”

“The idea of ‘virtue signaling’ is that you are on the right side,” he said, “and I want you to know that I’m on the right side more than I am standing with you.”

Photograph by Jake Taylor

LGBTQ+ pride flags and “Black Lives Matter” signs are two examples of the way people are using their yards to spread messages.

Lindsey Batteast, Black Lives Matter activist and founder of the Rising Rainbow Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the socioeconomic conditions and civic engagement of marginalized communities in Indiana, agreed with Desante, especially in regard to signs reading “Black Lives Matter.”

“Those signs don’t mean anything to me,” she said. “Those signs don’t truly signify whether you’re racist or not racist. Those signs don’t truly signify whether you’re a bigot or not a bigot. Those signs really are very, I’d say, performative.”

Rather than seeing an increase of signs, Batteast wants institutional changes to deal with systemic racism and other forms of oppression. She noticed how similar steps were taken after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

“What makes that any different than what we saw with Dr. Martin Luther King?” she said. “We see Dr. Martin Luther King boulevards throughout basically all cities in the nation.”

She argued that renaming the streets did little to change the realities of racial inequities.

“And what did it do it?” she said. “Nothing. We’re still in this moment today where we’re still seeing racial injustices. Just because you plaster a name or a slogan anywhere does not change the fact that at the root, there are still injustices.”

“We’re still in this moment today where we’re still seeing racial injustices. Just because you plaster a name or a slogan anywhere does not change the fact that at the root, there are still injustices.” – Lindsey Batteast, founder of the Rising Rainbow Coalition

Hombson had a different take.

“They’re definitely not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Hombson believes that having a sign does not signal whether or not someone is virtue signaling.

DeSante said more impactful steps towards justice include donating to social justice organizations, participating in protests and voting.

Batteast does not see substantial efforts toward racial justice from people with those signs.

“Where’s the real work?” she said. “I feel like people think that just because they put a sign up, that they’re doing the real work, when in actuality they’re really doing nothing.”

Legislative measures are what Batteast, DeSante, and Hombson agree are the most effective. But Hombson said it’ll take more than that for justice.

“Even then, there’s still countless social issues that go along with that that can’t be controlled by legislation,” he said.

DeSante described King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail, in which he described being angry with white moderates who do little to overcome racial injustice and argues that their silence is complacency.

“I feel like having these yard signs is a way for people to say, ‘Well, I’m not just sitting on the sidelines,’” Desante said. “’This is activism.’”