Your Silence Is Deafening
So, here’s the scenario. It’s apocalyptic Thursday. Zombies are outside your house (because you accidentally turned on the hall light and attracted them you moron!) You have a whole 30 seconds to decide on the ending for your ‘choose your own adventure’ story, before it all ends horribly with a smash and grab job of your brains. Do you A) Assume the seated lotus position and pray to one of many gods in the sky? B) Hum a school hymn that has inexplicably entered your head, whilst clutching a spatula and waving it precariously in the air so it makes you feel like you’re actually doing something? Or C) Grab a baseball bat, grit your teeth and try to batter the crap out of the zombies at an attempt to flee to freedom?
Does silence in a contentious situation really help… or is this planet too far gone with abhorrent acts of injustice to try and Gandhi ourselves out of it?
Before I could understand the formulaic wizardry of my A, B, C’s, I’ve been unapologetically loud. As my older brother would sit still and do as he was told, as a baby I would be thrashing around the kitchen cupboards pulling out bottles of bleach, emptying medicine cabinets and playing with scissors. I didn’t have the words to express myself so instead I demonstrated it with being a little shit! If it was dangerous and noisy, then I was fully prepared to have a surreptitious adventure. As I got older my volume continued to gain momentum. My loudness was now accompanied with words that formed opinions that carried an attitude which was spoken with (some!) intellect and often countered with humour. My consistent voice may have pissed off everyone who had ears, yet I still wasn’t prepared to alter something that was intrinsically me for the comfort of others.
Although I can stand tall and unflinching to my instinct in speaking certain truths whether good, bad or straight up difficult to hear, it is this personal trait that makes it so hard for me to understand why others stay silent when faced with adversity.
The first time I noticed the blunt gong of silence from others in a horrible situation, was when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I was bullied one summer by a group of Asian girls who found delight in chasing me around the back lanes and alleyways of my council estate I lived on. They threatened to beat me up and insisted on chanting ‘black jack’ at me. When it all kicked off my friend was with me and I would like to think that she wanted to help me but she just wouldn’t. “I don’t want to get involved,” she said. So alas I continued to run and hide on my own praying for the summer to be over.
Another time the sting of feeling isolated in a toxic situation occurred was when a lady on a bus aggressively screamed “Black bastard” at me. My only crime was that I stood up for a fellow black person who was being racially abused by her. However, when the lady decided to flip her lunacy on me, not one person sat on the busy bus offered any help or asked me if I was ok. Not even the gentleman I initially tried to help. I just sat there shaking with anger and staring out of the window trying not to cry in public. The same thing happened on another bus when an old white lady asked me to move because she didn’t want to sit next to me. Everyone who saw the drama unfold remained silent while I was made to feel embarrassed for being black.
In recent years with the explosion of social media becoming the platform we use to power punch our opinions and brain burps, I have noticed a familiar pattern. When I address race related subjects, the response from my friends is like I’ve suddenly told a horrendous story about an unprovoked attack of punching my dear nan in the face! (This has never happened!) The awkward silence is intense. Sharing a post about institutional racism in the police force or subconscious racial bias in relationships attracts silent gasps of crickets but nothing more. I can however share something online that is completely absurd and borderline offensive dressed up as ‘banter’ and have likes, shares and comments all day long.
Now I know my friends aren’t assholes. I know my friends have opinions. I know my friends have my back and support me. So why the deafening silence?? Yes, the subject matter maybe confronting and hard to swallow, but being passive amongst the madness is fast becoming the biggest copout.
Big things are happening. Big bad horrible things are going on in the world where staying silent because ‘you don’t want to get involved’, or you feel that voicing your opinion is counter-productive somehow is honestly just baffling. I do believe that once upon a time silence had the power to maim ignorant folk who will never understand you. But with the twisted shit we are living through in 2017, where you have white supremacists freely strutting around like you owe them something, your silence is losing its power if you opt to always remain passive. How can you be silent about things that matter?
Now I’m also not suggesting that we all go grab our pitchforks, banners and become freedom fighters! Waving a spatula in the air humming the hymn Lord of the Dance is futile. Words have power but intelligible passionate words have the punch. Because you see, I’m coming from a lonely place where banging on about inequality that directly affects me and my black skin, is greeted with an orchestra of awkward coughs and shuffling bums on pleather seats.
If I was to choose my own adventure I would go with option C. Grab the baseball bat and at least attempt to fight the good fight. Who is with me?