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.
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.).