It’s the silence that hurts the most.
Not the silence of the President. Not the silence of my family and most of my closest friends.
No, I expect all of that.
It’s my own silence that hurts the most.
I was silent in elementary school when an older student told me he wouldn’t be friends with Black kids.
I was silent when a middle-school friend asked me, “Why do Black people even get tattoos? You can’t see them.”
I was silent all of the years I’ve been told I was “SO lucky” to have been born with “good hair” and “beautiful skin”.
I was silent when my (white) college boyfriend signed up for AOL Instant Messenger with the user name “SplittingWood”.
I was silent when, as the lone liberal in a family of conservatives, I was asked not to bring up politics over the holidays.
I was silent when I saw a member of my own family use the n-word on Instagram.
I was silent when Trayvon Martin was murdered. And Michael Brown. And Eric Garner. And Sandra Bland. And Tamir Rice. And Freddie Gray. And and and. I was silent through it all.
I have been silent when I have been asked (both implicitly and explicitly) to be.
And in the few moments when I did speak up, I retreated almost instantly. I ignored the ignorant and hateful comments—when I only should have gotten louder.
I’m not a particularly quiet or shy person. I have publicly proclaimed that I “give no fucks”.
But that hasn’t been true. I have given fucks—about how I was perceived and about how I would be treated and affected by the words that I use.
I have given fucks about me.
I have carefully calculated a public image that is, at once, active and passive. Justice-minded and attention-seeking. I have been the “likable Liberal” to the very large Conservative base in my life.
I have worried that I would lose friends and family and resources.
I have worried that I would lose love.
And I may.
But as I have watched those who refuse to be silent . . . as I have seen the new faces and voices in my life who refuse to be quiet, who don’t care about what they may lose (or, perhaps more importantly, do care and speak up anyway)—I realize that I can never lose it all.
No. I’ll gain so much more.
What I gain by speaking up is a community that is more closely aligned with what I feel and who I am.
I was not surprised by what happened in Charlottesville. Or Ferguson or Standing Rock, for that matter.
I was saddened, of course. By the loss of life, the pain of division . . . and the disappointment in myself.
But I set that trend. In my own silence, I set the standard: it is okay to ignore this. To perhaps even participate in it. And as such, I have participated in it myself.
Disgusting. Disappointing. And no more.
I refuse to continue to be disappointed in myself.
I refuse to be silent.