Silence Is Violence
“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I heard of the success of the student protests at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I wrote this: Jonathan Butler referenced “a poisonous infestation of apathy” that his hunger strike challenged. I’m so heartened to see his challenge succeed. Mere moments later, or seemingly so, Mr. Butler and his fellow activists were facing down death threats and still more institutional racism and indifference to their well being.
Today, when I saw a familiar name turn up in my call history, a perfect tempest of tangled emotions swept through me and settled in my anxious gut. I took in a quiet breath, restarted the streaming content that had timed out, and put the phone back down.
After doing a few busy-busy things in the kitchen, I took the phone into the bathroom with me and closed the door to listen to the voicemail. Would it be an angry response to my writings, finally read? Would it be a compassionate, supportive call in the wake of what’s going on a few hours drive away from her and could be going on still more intimately for me in a few years when my daughter is matriculating at a university somewhere? Would the latter indicate that my writings hadn’t yet been read? Or had been read with honesty, courage, and love? How would I respond in the last case? Why did my heart still leap like a fish with hope at that last thought?
None of the above, as it turns out. Just a chatty message oblivious both to my wrenched-heart writings and still and always to the immediacy of racism and the toll it violently forces black people to pay in this country day by day, moment by moment (and to a lesser extent, extorts from any non-black people who genuinely love any black people).
None of the above, and thereby, a reminder, a reinforcement of my choice. I cannot trust my heart any longer to folks who cannot be bothered with even registering racism consistently, nevermind confronting it, directly or indirectly or at all. My heart is abraded day by day, moment by moment by the potentially fatal and always damaging blades racist America aims at my family. I cannot bear any longer to hold that pain in the company of those who cannot offer even the most basic of solidarities with it.
None of the above, and another precious layer of scar tissue closes over the heart’s wounds made of these familiar names gouged deep with the blades of silence, indifference, cowardice, and complicity. My heart aches for those brave and terrified human beings at Mizzou and on campuses and in churches and in workplaces and walking down streets facing down homicidal anti-Blackness day by day, moment by moment. My heart clenches with terror and resolution at the prospect of one day sitting at home waiting for a good word while my baby girl faces down some similar trap set to derail her access, her education, perhaps her very life.
None of the above, and I know on yet another level that I hold no quarter any longer for anyone who would pick up the phone and call me in the middle of that day by day, moment by moment experience of terrorism with no good word to offer on the subject.
None of the above, and that day is this day, and that moment is this moment.
None of the above, and that day is every day, and that moment is every moment.
None of the above, and as I keep saying, I’m done.
. . .
I’d like to be done processing this toxicity in writing, too. I can’t say for sure yet whether that’s finally true, but I can close this piece and possibly this chapter of my life with some words from some other folks who knew too well the cost and the wages of silence:
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Oppression can only survive through silence.” ~ Carmen de Monteflores
“Your silence will not protect you.” ~ Audre Lorde