a reflection on #BlackFair

August 29, 2015

Today I met with hundreds of other people at Hamline Park in Saint Paul, and marched down Snelling Avenue toward the Minnesota State Fair. I had been told by various sources that the protest was intending to stir up trouble, that violence was imminent from both organizers and hecklers, that the protest set up by Black Lives Matter Saint Paul was "inappropriate" and lacking a cause. Here's how I saw and experienced the event as a white woman who has grown up in Saint Paul and is committed to a more just world.

The Purpose

I saw the purpose of this event as two-pronged. To point out the disparities within the State Fair, and to use the visibility of the Fair to point out racial injustice within the state and country. Although the Fair doesn't prevent people of color from having booths, it doesn't collect data on the race of vendors so that diversity and equity can be tracked. This is why no one was able to provide information about the amount of diversity represented at the Fair from either side. Seeking more transparency and tracking from the Fair is a valid reason to peacefully protest. Bringing a protest to a place of commerce always seems to rub people the wrong way, but it seems to be the only way to bring visibility to overlooked issues. My hope was that the visibility of the protest would continue to bring attention to the ways that systematic racism and mass incarceration harm our whole society.

The Protest

I attended the protest with a close friend, her husband, her sister, and her ten month old daughter in a stroller. We heard the organizers reminding the gathered crowd before starting that Black Lives Matter was created by queer black women, and that the liberation and acceptance of women, the LGBTQIA community, and other groups experiencing discrimination were all tied together. We heard the organizers encourage the crowd to protest peacefully, and take care of themselves. And then we started walking. Standing in solidarity with my fellow Twin Cities residents, of all colors, abilities, ages, and orientations was an honor. I was in awe of the organized and caring way the marshalls in neon vests directed marchers, and the passion they communicated to us through their voices amplified by megaphones. I felt thankful for the police that created a perimeter for us and kept us safe, but also resented that they were partly there out of fear that protestors would turn violent. I felt a soaring hope that agitation helps make things happen in the shadow of the front gate of the State Fair, and also felt ashamed when I heard heckling coming from fairgoers on the other side of the chain link fences. I felt relief and pride as we peacefully walked back down Snelling Avenue to end our protest. 

The Impact

So, now I am sitting at my dining room table, and it's getting late. My feet are sore, and I am tired. But the work is not over. I feel extreme hope when I remember all the beautiful people that marched on the Fair. I feel extreme sadness when I look through social media and see white people criticizing the movement for timing or venue and claiming that "all lives matter" and "white lives matter, too." I don't think tearing down attempts at equality or feeling guilty and attempting to minimize the problem help progress. 

As civil rights activist, Anne Braden, said, "I’ve never seen it [guilt] move anybody. I think what everybody white that I know has gotten involved in the struggle got into it because they glimpsed a different world to live in. The meaning of life is in that struggle, that human beings have always been able to envision something better. I don’t know where they get it but that’s what makes human beings divine I think. But all through history there’ve been people who’ve envisioned something better in the most dire situations, and that’s what you want to be a part of. You won’t see the fruits of it but that that’s what you want to be a part of."

Envision a world in which people truly were judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. Imagine a world in which all cultures are respected, celebrated, and preserved. Imagine a world that shares in a rich diversity of knowledge, customs, and skills. This is a world in which black lives matter. This is a world in which all lives matter, because, finally, black lives matter. Imagine what we could accomplish.

I plan to educate myself and continue to show up for events that promote equity and this vision of a better future. I plan to combat colorblindness, privilege, and apathy within myself. I plan to share what I have experienced with others. I wish you well on your journey, and encourage you to do so also. 

My sources:


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