There’s a quote going around on Facebook of Morgan Freeman saying that the best way to end racism is to stop talking about racism. I think I understand what Morgan Freeman is trying to say, but the conversations happening on Facebook, and the common discourse that gets thrown around (usually among my fellow white people) every February makes me uncomfortable.
“Why are we celebrating black history month? Isn’t calling attention to black history just going to make the problem worse?”
“When do we get white history month? Reverse racism!”
“Slavery was SUCH a long time ago! Everything is equal now, and black people are just playing the victim!”
Now, I’m obviously whiter than sour cream. I grew up in a K-12 school that had maybe two people of color in the entire school at any one time. And I’m still in the process of learning how to recognize and divest myself of all my white privilege. I’m hesitant to speak on issues of race, because, frankly, I’m ignorant about them. If any of my readers have more experience or knowledge on the topic, I would love to hear your thoughts.
But I feel a bit uncomfortable about this idea of silence as a solution.
I was also recently told that the more I talked about sexism in the world, the more I was perpetuating sexism.
“We’re all equals. You’re just looking for problems where none exist!”
“If feminists would stop seeing everything as sexist, we could just all live as equals.”
“Advocating so strongly for women is reverse sexism!”
Now, I won’t assume issues of race and issues of sexism are the same, but if I understand anything about oppression (and, as a woman, I believe I do), it’s that the answer to oppression is NOT “stop talking about oppression.”
Looking back at history, silence didn’t end slavery. It didn’t stop segregation.
Because of silence, I didn’t know how women won the right to vote until my senior year of college.
Because of silence, I thought I was one of the only people I knew who had been a victim of rape. Because of silence, I spent years thinking that it was my fault.
Because of silence, I didn’t think twice when a pastor in high school told me that interracial dating could be sinful.
Because of silence, I never learned much, if anything, about Frederick Douglass or Sojourner Truth or Martin Luther King Jr. (besides the fact that he and I shared a birthday), or Ida B. Wells, or even Susan B. Anthony or Alice Paul or Emma Goldman. Because of silence, I grew up having to choose all my heroes from white men.
Because of silence, men can drive past me in broad daylight and shout the most awful things out the window as I walk to class, and no one around me bats an eye. Because of silence, I got felt up by a complete stranger at a rock concert last night, and it almost felt normal. Because of silence, women and men alike think that a woman’s body is public property.
Silence is not the answer.
We need to drag these issues out into the light. Only then will we be able to see them clearly enough to find answers.
Silence is not the answer.
Silence is the enemy.