I rarely post anything on Facebook, and even less frequently on this blog. There are so many voices and opinions flooding our screens, one more hardly seems necessary. When it comes to the internet, silence is often my default approach.
Over the past year or so, our nation and our news feeds have been filled with anything but silence. Much of this has been discourse on race, sparked by events in Ferguson, Staten Island, and elsewhere. Now Baltimore. The subject of race in America has become difficult, perhaps impossible, to ignore.
Many in my community have been speaking up about race—supporting protestors, defending police, asking questions, seeking support, questioning logic, arguing over terms, standing in solidarity, demanding justice, pleading, debating, crying out for help. In the midst of this, I have been quiet, mostly silent. I have occasionally shared an article on Facebook, or expressed my concerns, questions, and thoughts to those closest to me. Nothing that one would call “speaking up.”
All that could have been said always seemed to be said by another. Why add my voice if I had nothing new to share?
My silence has also come from my cynicism. My emotions are generally filtered through my thinking (I am an INTJ through and through), meaning that I find it easy to discredit that which seems emotionally charged. My mind thrives on consistent and logical argument, so when articles or posts misuse terms, misrepresent ideas, or throw logic and evidence out the window, I struggle to consider the author’s perspective. For better or worse, I am difficult to convince.
With commentary on race abounding, and many arguments filled with gaping holes, silence was a comfortable option for me. I could read, evaluate, criticize, and form opinions without any real risk. Certainly I agreed with much that I heard and read. I desired a better reality for my brothers and sisters experiencing injustice and oppression. I knew that something was terribly wrong. The fact that some in our country are more likely to be pulled over, incarcerated, shot, or forced to live in fear because of the color of their skin is undeniable and unacceptable.
Yet silence remained comfortable, and a posture that didn’t seem to contribute to injustice or oppression. Yet at an event that my university hosted last fall, a professor shared three words that shocked me: “Passivity is violence.” Was my tendency to remain silent, fueled by my hyper-critical nature, a form of violence? It certainly didn’t seem to be.
I continued to be challenged by these words. Were my choices somehow contributing to violence? Or perhaps contributing to a lack of justice and peace? These questions haunted me. I had no clear notion of how to move forward. Unsure of what else to do, of what I might say, I began to listen.
And what I began to hear were people asking to be heard. Pleading for me to listen. Begging that we join their cause to create a nation that acts like black lives matter.
I still have the option of remaining silent, of analyzing the news when I have the time, and continuing on with my life. The status quo will treat me—a relatively wealthy, well-educated white American male—quite well. But not all my friends have this option of continuing in comfortability. For many born with a skin color different than mine, injustice, judgement, and inequality remain the status quo. Members of my community are calling for someone to help, and asking that I use my voice to do so.
My voice is needed in the struggle for justice. Your voice is needed in the struggle for justice.
I have remained silent for too long. To those in my community who have been asking for help: I am sorry that I have been so slow to speak. I am here for you, to listen, to advocate, to toil together for a community of equality, humility, and true justice. In so many ways I don’t understand what you experience and feel. I have many questions, and I am as cynical as ever. But I better understand that you need my voice, along with everyone’s voice, to speak up with you.
For those afraid to speak up, unsure of what to do, cynical like me: You are not being asked to abandon your questions. You are not being asked to give up logic and evidence. You are not being asked to agree with particular policies, religious or theological views, or social theories. You are not being asked to adopt any particular vocabulary that may be unsettling to you. You are not being asked to support violence, looting, or any particular verdict.
What you are being asked is simply this: To recognize that many of your brothers and sisters are treated unjustly because of the color of their skin. To see that this status quo is one that cannot remain. And to acknowledge that doing nothing, saying nothing, enables the persistence of this status quo.
If I do not speak up in support of a different kind of future, I remain a force in support of our violent reality. Tacit support is not enough. I must say something.
Silence permits injustice. Passivity is violence.