Silence is not the answer

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.

No, friends.

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.

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  • As for this whole hullabaloo about birth control, sometimes I wonder what would happen if people (specifically men) realized how many women use it – and that we use if for all kinds of reasons, not just contraception. I know that there will still be people who won’t listen, who will spew all sorts of crazy bull on the subject… I guess what I’m getting at is I know silence doesn’t work, but how do we publicly address something private and multi faceted like birth control use, other than just going around and saying to whoever will listen or not – Hi, I use a IUD. Why? Because now I have no cramps, almost no flow and all without the whole being psycho from the OCP – and if you’re going to curse me out for solving those two huge problems then fine you can have my uterus – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Somehow I don’t think that’s the answer

    • Great question! How do we talk about things that are so private? I’ll have to think more on that!

  • Hi Sarah. You say: “And I’m still in the process of learning how to recognize and divest myself of all my white privilege.”

    My question is: How would one do that? The way that white privilege has been presented to me by some, any privilege that I enjoy has something to do with me being white—-since I have been born into situations and have been cut breaks that have not been available to, say, people born in the inner city. I can elaborate on this, if you want, but I’m just curious about what you mean when you talk about divesting yourself of your white privilege.

    • But if you were born as a white person in the inner city, would your life be that much better? What’s the issue, the race or the poverty?

      I’m also curious as to what Sarah means by “divesting myself of my white privilege.” 🙂

      • I think the issue is both racism and poverty.

      • I would agree that poverty is probably the issue there, not race (though race and poverty issues can be connected sometimes).

        I’d say that one area of white privilege is the fact that we don’t need a “history month” because every month we learn about the history of our people. We can divest of that privilege by educating ourselves about the black people that were important to our country’s history every month, or by committing to teach those aspects of history to our students/children every month.

        Here’s the famous article on White privilege though if you want to know more!

        • Thanks for posting that article. A lot of the concerns in that list reminded me of David Nilsen’s last two blog posts about how his adopted daughter is singled out because she is from another country.

        • Thanks for posting this. A lot of the items on the list remind me of what David Nilsen of Screaming Kettle was talking about on his last two blog posts, about how his daughter is singled out for being from another country.

  • I don’t understand how anyone could think silence is the answer. It’s important to know about the past so that we can learn from it. (says the history major) The thing that sprang to my mind first was the Holocaust. Not talking about it would translate into forgetting about it. That would be BAD. We can’t allow that to happen.

    I’m not sure how much “white privilege” is due to race and how much is due to the cultures which typically correlate with certain races. For example, if you have books in the home, if your parents read…that alone will put you ahead. Then there are little things connected with poverty that I never thought of before taking a class in college – some kids don’t know what a ZOO is, so how can they use a curriculum that uses pictures of zoo animals when they don’t know what the animals are?

    I do know that a teenage African-American guy who is a close friend of my white family has issues in school which my brother does not have…because my brother is white and this boy is black, because my brother has two parents who feel like they can advocate for their son and have the tools to do so successfully, while this other boy has a mother who doesn’t have those tools and may be written off because she is black and perhaps she comes across as somehow ignorant. It drives me crazy, because I see this other boy and I see how somehow he’s managed to NOT get caught up in gangs and NOT get caught up in drugs and he’s doing well in school, despite the fact that he probably gets teased for it…and it drives me crazy that people will assume he’s up to no good, partly because of his skin color, partly because that’s their experience of young African-American men. The world is against him. It’s awful.

    There is such a thing as “reverse” racism – but I think racism is any prejudice against a person based on their race alone. It’s not a one way thing. Similarly, one can be sexist against men.

    But mostly..I’m a white woman. I can’t tell the story of African-American people – it isn’t my story. I can never truly know how that feels, and at this point I don’t know any African-Americans well enough to have a good image of how that feels, or whether racism is still prevalent today or not. I think it’s very important for us to listen to others’ stories, even if we disagree with their conclusions. We all have the right to our own stories.

    Sorry for the long and rambling comment…