Silence is Compliance
Updated: Jun 5
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
And I don't necessarily mean silence on the internet. That's the least important place to wave your ally flag. Silence and compliance are most egregious in our day-to-day lives, but nonetheless, I wanted to say something. Anything. But saying something simply for the sake of saying something doesn't help anyone, either. As a writer, I know that words matter, especially in a world so egregiously fucked that racism and murder have remained solid pillars of our culture for hundreds of years. The crime is and was heinous beyond words, but the roots of the crime are deeply planted in our country and cultural subconscious. Like, way deep. Like, back to the beginning of America deep.
When I first learned about slavery as it relates to American history, I felt sadness and shock. The pages of my history books were littered with images of black men and women in shackles, white men standing over them, white women standing off to the side, conciliatory or conspiring, it's hard to tell. My history books were also strewn with stories of violence, the American Revolution, Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, and every war since. Violence, I was taught, is okay sometimes, when our nation is under threat. As Americans, we are taught to fight for our freedoms, to revolt against the kind of tyranny we originally fled. We are clearly and unarguably under threat right now. A threat against some of us is a threat against all of us, and those who beg to differ are doing nothing more but outing themselves as either ignorant or racist or both.
Our cultural divides are deeper than ever. I don't need to list the hundreds of heinous crimes that have been committed and documented that have landed us in the current situation. My place as a young white women in the midst of this mess is incredibly telling. Once, on a date with a black man, we both noticed stares from white people. I didn't care, because that's what privileged people do. We don't care if someone sees us, because seeing isn't threatening. He was uncomfortable though, because the kinds of looks we were receiving were the kinds of looks that, to him, meant vitriol or hatred or violence.
Once, he told me, he was pulled over for going 8 miles over the speed limit and his car searched for marijuana. Nothing was found. I, on the other hand, have been pulled over for speeding, rolling through stop signs, having a tail light out, having expired plates, and received nothing but a verbal warning for each. This is a small but potent example of why police officers do not scare me, but scare him. On a wider scale, to him, police officers are life-threatening, and that is exactly the tyranny we are now collectively raging against. I cannot condemn acts of protest. That is not my ground to stand on. I can though, continue to love, value, uphold, and help friends and strangers of color. I can do my best to speak up when I need to, shut up when I should, and knock down any barriers I am able to knock down.
Some people are saying that white people need to shut up now, but I'm not sure that's the right answer. Silence is compliance. We're taught that in grade school, when we're told that seeing someone be bullied and not saying anything is just as bad as being the bully. When we see injustice-any kind of injustice-we are obligated to say or do something. If not, we are conciliatory. None of us are above this. Ignoring the world we live in is a privilege that most people do not have.
Once, I took a self-defense class in which the instructor taught a group of young women how to protect ourselves against an attacker. How to throw an elbow squarely into someone's nose. How to complete a hammer strike and groin kick. How to escape from a "bear hug" attack or a headlock. How to ascertain who might be a real threat, and how to reach the police who, we were told, would help us. Imagine a world in which the police weren't there to help you though, but in fact posed a bigger threat than anyone else on the street because the police have power and weapons and authority at their fingertips, always.
A lot of white people don't know where to stand in the midst of all this. But imagine feeling chronically afraid or anxious to be out in the world, interacting with people who harm you in overt and subtle ways. Imagine how goddamned tired you'd be. Imagine watching a white man reenact the same, historic story of racism and anger and deadly prejudice. Imagining this horror is an exercise in empathy, and empathy is all it really takes to start being better.
I used to joke that my go-to response to dumb men on dating apps was, "Be better." It is a universal and easy way to shame a fuck boy, but now I'm turning the phrase toward myself and anyone who might be feeling lost amidst the protests. We all need to Be Better, and not just today or this week or this month. We need to be better, always, to ensure the safety and well-being of people of color. If you deny that you could be part of the problem, I assure you that you are in fact, part of the problem.
The verbiage surrounding this movement speaks volumes about how rampant racism is. We condemn the protesters and rioting, even though most protesters aren't the ones rioting. We say things like, "Blue lives matter," or "All lives matter," (again, no one ever said they didn't), and we generally blame the Black community for the pain and suffering inflicted upon them. Conversely, when a white man walks into a movie theater, school, mall, or concert and unleashes his fury onto innocent people we muse about his mental health, offering more empathy and understanding to a killer than to those being killed.
With that, here are some quick bullet points for anyone who might be confused about the current situation.
- Proclaiming that "all lives matter" doesn't solve any problem and highlights an internal bias. Black lives have been historically disenfranchised. If you are not Black, you don't know what it's like to live in Black skin and can kindly keep your sideways opinions to yourself.
- Remaining silent in the face of racism is compliance, especially for people who live with privilege.
- Everyone is fighting some battle, but the scars and traumas and struggles of others do not detract from, negate, or otherwise lessen your own pain.
- Condemning protesters/rioters is taking attention away from the heinous crime that was committed and the systemic oppression that allowed that crime to occur. Besides, most people looting aren't protesting.
- For resources on how to be a better ally, go HERE. Find an organization to donate to HERE. For a list of books that address race (for adults and children), go HERE. For more books, go HERE. The opportunities to educate yourself are endless.
P.S. Watch a poem I wrote about my own privilege, disgusting as it is at times. I encourage you to view it completely to not mistake my point. My reality is dripping in privilege and yours might be too. It's up to us to use our voices and privilege to advocate for others ALWAYS, not just today or tomorrow or next week. Much love everyone ❤