Why the Flag Matters

2/2018

By Hana Nazerali-Ruddy

  The raising of the Black Lives Matter Flag on February 1st (Times Argus photo)

The raising of the Black Lives Matter Flag on February 1st (Times Argus photo)

Black History Month - the one month each year when the world pays just a little more attention to the neglected accomplishments of black Americans throughout history. Regardless of your thoughts on Black History Month, it is unquestionably a reminder to be reflective and introspective. It is a month for us all to think about our own lives, and to consider and how most of the members of our predominantly white community have benefited and continue to benefit from the centuries long oppression of people of colour. The MHS Racial Justice Alliance, with the support of the school board, raised the Black Lives Matter flag on February first 2018 with this in mind. We are the first high school in the country to raise the Black Lives Matter flag and it was not a decision made lightly.

In order to fully understand what this flag means, we must take the time to understand what it does not mean. Flying the Black Lives Matter flag does not mean that our school stands for violence, it does not mean that our school is anti-cop, and it does not mean that certain lives are valued over others. Recently, someone shared a helpful analogy with me that perfectly explains why the slogan is Black Lives Matter and not All Lives Matter: if there was a house on fire in a neighbourhood full of other houses that were not on fire, the fire department would focus on the burning house. Similarly, Black Lives Matter is about putting out that one house fire; the focus on black lives is due to the fact that black lives are the ones disproportionally sidelined by our legal and educational systems.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement has its roots in the issue of police brutality, it is not about police brutality; it is about the bias that is so ingrained in our society that the words large black man prompt associations with violence and terror, that the notion of black lives mattering is not obvious to everyone and prompts defensiveness rather than agreement, that citing skeptical figures on black-on-black crime rates comes as a natural response to incidents of police brutality, that the mass incarceration of people of colour for minor crimes exists as a only vaguely recognised backdrop in most people’s daily lives.

 A 2015 Black Lives Matter protest in Chicago (Chicago Herald photo)

A 2015 Black Lives Matter protest in Chicago (Chicago Herald photo)

About a year ago the Racial Justice Alliance, then called Diversity Club, sat together and discussed for the first time the idea of raising a Black Lives Matter flag at the high school as a confrontation of the underrepresentation of students of color in our education system, and as a promise to do better by those students. We knew at the time that this would not be an easy feat to accomplish, but we also felt strongly enough that it was a necessary step to take. A few months later we sat on the edges of our seats in our first formal meeting to propose the idea; we went into the conference room with our feet tapping in excitement and brains abuzz with adrenaline, and came out of it angry and hurt. After that initial discussion, it seemed like it would not be feasible to raise the flag. This setback only cemented in our minds the importance of a re-prioritization of ideals and considerations within the school system.

Several months and countless meetings later, I stood beneath the flagpole in the MHS parking lot to witness and participate in the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag. I looked around me at all of the glowing upturned faces dusted with melting snowflakes and hearts warmed with the sweet sound of Nina Simone’s voice singing “Young, Gifted and Black”, and I was filled with pride and love for this community that I joined only one short year ago, the Racial Justice Alliance and all of the hard work that has gone into raising this flag, each and every student and resident standing together for the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag; and all those who from other schools and communities to stand in solidarity with us.