Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

Silence Doesn’t Always Mean Complicity

Audre Lorde famously said “your silence will not protect you.” Desmond Tutu said “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Many others, including Paulo Freire, Elie Wiesel and, everyone’s favorite, Martin Luther King, Jr. have made similar statements discouraging people from being neutral to conflict. I’ve seen these memes on various social media since the violence in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. I know as an African American woman, I suppose I should be more vocal. But I’m not and here’s why. Perhaps some of these points will fit your situation.

  1. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because sometimes speaking out can be dangerous, especially if you belong to a marginalized group (like LGBT, differently abled, immigrant, etc.)
  2. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because to charge someone with being complicit, you would have to know the other person’s motivations. And how would you assess this accurately?
  3. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because speaking out is exhausting and self care is important. And sometimes self care takes priority over other things.
  4. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because you may not identify with every idea of a certain group. For example, just because I’m a black woman doesn’t mean I agree and/or support every idea black people have, women have or black women have. Because I’m an individual, there is more to me than my race and gender.

So if you are silent about Charlottesville, or the president, or Civil War icons or refugees or whatever issue arises next, don’t feel bad. Some things hit you and some don’t. No one should feel obligated to speak out on something because they may belong to a certain group or identify themselves a certain way. The fight for equality (however it is defined and understood) is a long one and burnout is common so you want to join, do it for your own reasons, not because you feel obligated by whatever amorphous, undefined group you feel is evaluating you (your field of study, colleagues, the world, etc.).

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Epic Eye Roll

Every time someone mentions Dr. King as an example of what the fight for civil rights is supposed to look like I roll my eyes. I hate that this has happened, that I’m reduced to looking like an entitled 14 year old brat every time one of the best leaders, orators and writers is mentioned. I teach Dr. King in my into to African American literature course because, despite his overgrown status, Dr. King is still one of the best writers and speakers, I think, the world has seen.

I roll my eyes because Dr. King is used as the only example, as a way to police and minimize others’ actions, because he is thrown in our faces as a weapon. Just like the child who always hears “why can’t you be more like your brother or sister,” begins to resent his or her brother or sister, I’m beginning to resent talk of civil rights and protests. Just like you can’t compare children to each other because it’s like comparing apples to clouds, you can’t compare civil rights leaders. We all have preferences, but one is not “better” than another. And speaking of all these civil rights leaders, I have yet to hear anyone compare King to any of them specifically by name. Not even the infamous King/Malcolm X comparison. It’s like King is being compared to, you know, everyone else. Everyone else who? Please name names because the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a broad based coalition. That’s one of the reasons it was so effective.

So let’s stop talking about Dr. King like he “won” the civil rights movement. It wasn’t a competition nor a game. BLM and other modern movements for civil rights need to be free to identify themselves and fight the way they want to. Just as you are not your parents, BLM is its own organization. Let’s critique it on its own merits, not on the ways it is unlike its predecessors.