Two weeks of protests and no signs it will stop. I admit with a mixture of hope and fear that I did not expect protests to still be occurring. Hope comes from the possibility that something might actually change. Fear comes from the possibility that it still won’t. The end result is I have been uncharacteristically silent.
Silence, ironically, is a new entrant into conversations about race and oppression. Of course, those who oppose the protests want protesters to shut up. But that’s not the silence that has grabbed my attention. People of color are pleading for those who don’t understand to stop talking, to be quiet and start listening. It is the necessary silence that appears when someone puts down their defenses long enough to stop and hear what the other is trying to say.
Another silence is the one that screams from those who could say something but choose not to. This is the silence that comes from feeling shock, disempowerment, or futility. Can words make a difference? Obviously they can. Yet this silence comes from the message that our words can never be enough, so do we bother at all?
Silence stemming from the inability to do anything other than watch – even though this silence may reflect that some still have the choice, the privilege, to not do anything. I find myself stuck here, because I’ve stayed indoors and not put myself out there. I haven’t even mentioned it on Facebook. Have I become so skeptical, cynical, or jaded that I am silent because I don’t believe any of this will turn into lasting change?
In 2016 I took the punch in the genitals when Trump was elected – the ultimate proof to me that the “people” of the United States would rather have a rich, belligerent, racist, sexist, uneducated white man in charge instead of a woman or person of color. It has been the best example for white privilege ever, that a white dude can be disgustingly unqualified and land the most prestigious job in the country. Oh, what did Trump do to get famous? He starred in a TV show and sponsored fake wrestlers. What exactly about his C.V. made anyone think he would be able to handle real-life situations?
The years following (has it really only been 4 years? It feels like 50…) have been marked by a forceful reassertion that any of us who dare speak up about white supremacy, privilege, or oppression will be met with violence, bullying, “silencing” in essence because our demands for equality and fairness somehow have been labeled “oppressive” for calling out those who were engaging in all that oppression in the first place. The truth is that institutions have just gotten better at lawyering up. Everyone gets a publicist who writes the speech that is meant to hit all the right notes but says nothing of any real substance or leads to any noticeable change.
That’s why I was surprised by #metoo. That’s why I’m now surprised by the resurgence of #blacklivesmatter. Because both movements are movements that have been around for a long time, but maybe right now things have gotten so ugly, so disastrous, so totally ridiculous, that even the people who’ve held so much power and privilege can finally look around and say, “hmm, maybe this isn’t working.”
I’m tired. I’m silent because I feel I haven’t the energy to make noise. I want to be heard but I also want to just listen. I want someone else to talk, to feel the burden of carrying the message, to live with what it steals from you when you lose. I want to believe that you don’t need to go through all of that in order to erase oppression. But it is what I go through all the time, because just when I think it’s about to turn into something good, some dick comes around and shoves his boot on your neck.
Do you shove back? Maybe. Do you do more? You have to. I don’t know what it all looks like. I don’t think it is all so mysterious though as to prevent us from coming up with ideas. Some acts really are simple, even though they take courage to do them. Saying “no” is simple. Saying ‘no’ to your boss could cost you a job. Saying ‘no’ to police could cost you your freedom or your life. The word is easy; the act takes courage. Courage requires fear; they are two sides of the same coin. Fear lets us know what we are putting on the line. Courage remains when we act, knowing we can lose what matters most.
But fear by itself can be used to dominate. Oppression is an act of cowardice. Courage flies in the face of this, because even the simplest acts can require tremendous sacrifice. Maybe people with white privilege will realize that the worst thing that happens to you when you say you have it is that all the people of color around you will go, “thanks.” Because now you’re showing that you actually care and can be courageous, and you’re willing to make some sacrifices.