Black Lives Matter T-Shirts Matter

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At the Women’s March in January, my friend and I were behind a bunch of people wearing matching t-shirts. All we could see was the back, which said “Wear Out the Silence.” I didn’t understand what it was about, so I pushed my way through the dense crowd to ask them.

They turned out to be from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national group I was aware of, but hadn’t connected to.

Through community organizing, mobilizing and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.

We work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills and political analysis to act for change. 

We envision a society where we struggle together with love, for justice, human dignity and a sustainable world.

The fronts of the “Wear Out the Silence” shirts said Black Lives Matter. The idea is particularly for (white) people to wear BLM t-shirts on Fridays, to create a critical mass of shirts with one message.

A few weeks later, I bought a BLM t-shirt from SURJ. I don’t wear it every Friday, but I do try to wear a politicized t-shirt most Fridays. (This is very weird for me, because I spent 25+ years of my life with a personal policy of not wearing t-shirts that say anything. I had, however, ended that period before Mike Brown was murdered, for different reasons.)

So I wear the shirt fairly frequently, in my rather diverse and somewhat progressive home town of Oakland, and occasionally I get a [positive] comment, but often not. It isn’t uncommon to see someone else in a similar shirt, Fridays or otherwise.

A couple of weeks ago, I had occasion to be in a whiter, less progressive suburb of San Francisco on a Friday, and I wore the shirt. I must have gotten 10-15 comments, all positive, many from people of color. I was at an event in a hotel, and two hotel employees (one black, one brown) went out of their way to comment on the shirt. I was out to lunch and a black man got out of line to come over and compliment me and give me a dap. It just kept happening.

At work the next week I told a white friend who lives in that town that she should start wearing a shirt like mine pronto, because people clearly aren’t seeing them enough.

Yesterday was not Friday, but I was having lunch in another suburb of San Francisco, one I think of as somewhat browner and somewhat lower-income, but not especially progressive, so I wore the shirt. I got two compliments in Oakland, one from a black man in my morning t’ai chi class who said he was inspired to get one. And I hardly walked at all in the suburb where I had lunch, but in the few minutes I was out and about, a black woman walking the other way interrupted her phone call to say “Nice shirt!”

I’m beginning to really understand “Wear out the silence.” In my progressive-to-radical bubble, I think of Black Lives Matter as an everyday, basic response to systemic oppression that never leaves my consciousness, or the consciousness of many (most?) people I know. But I only have to take a few steps outside of that bubble to change an everyday basic response into a conversation starter. I have yet to encounter a negative response to the shirt; I’m sure that is coming and I hope I’m prepared enough. If not, I’ll learn.

If you don’t have a Black Lives Matter t-shirt (and/or patch, and/or bumper sticker, and/or lawn sign), especially if you’re white, why not? The materials are available everywhere. Please buy from an organization raising money to do anti-racism work rather than from a for-profit exploiter. The particular Wear Out the Silence shirt I have can be purchased here.