Waiting in silence will not bring about any change
For me, last weekend was supposed to be all about wedding planning. Well, wedding planning, getting a new phone, celebrating my future brother-in-law’s birthday and supporting my dog-nephew, Franklin, in an Oktoberfest parade (which he rocked, by the way). But it was all happy stuff, so I was expecting the weekend to be stress-free albeit busy.
Of course, one should never be too confident in staying stress-free so long as immediate access to the full crazy of the Internet is literally in the palm of her hand. And this weekend, the Internet was full of a particular brand of crazy — the kind in which white people tell black people to stop complaining about the racist things that happen them because that just makes everything worse.
It started Friday morning when I woke up to the news that Bristol Palin had “slammed” President Barack Obama on her blog for inviting Ahmed Mohamed to the White House. Mohamed, you may recall, is the 14-year-old Muslim student who was arrested and suspended for bringing a homemade clock to school in order to show it to his engineering teacher. The school thought the clock was a bomb.
Palin thought Obama’s gesture of inviting Mohamed to the White House was “childish” and divisive.
“This is the kind of stuff Obama needs to STAY out of,” she wrote, “This encourages more racial strife that is already going on with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ crowd and encourages victimhood. The police made a mistake, clearly. But why put more people against them? Why egg it on?”
Then, on Sunday, after Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama — stating in her acceptance speech that black woman cannot win awards for roles that don’t exist — white actress Nancy Lee Grahn, in a now-deleted tweet, said the Emmys were not a “venue 4 racial opportunity.”
Grahn has since apologized, but both her comments and Palin’s demand that black people not address racism adumbrate a larger, longer pattern of silencing black voices and black pain.
If you frequent certain corners of the Internet, you may have seen this refrain floating around earlier this month: We’re expected to “never forget” 9/11, but slavery is something black people need to get over. The past is the past.
The point is not that the thousands of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, shouldn’t be honored or mourned. They should be. The point is that black people don’t seem to be extended that same courtesy when it comes to remembering the horrific enslavement and colonization of generations and generations of their families — brutal acts that, in many ways, still affect black people all around the world.
When Bristol Palin says that Barack Obama, a black man, shouldn’t get involved when a Sudanese-American student is racially profiled or when a white woman says a black woman shouldn’t talk about discrimination, it’s the same message: “The world is racist,” Palin and Grahn were essentially saying, “but, black people, you really need to stop pointing it out.”
It was enough to make my almost-cured cough come back with a vengeance, which was the end of my peaceful weekend.
If marginalized people aren’t allowed to bring up the sins committed against them, what is the proposed alternative? That they wait in silence until things change on their own? Until the oppressive powers that be transform themselves? Call me silly, but that sounds less than promising. I mean, we’re still in a place where white women don’t see the ironic racism in telling black people to stop talking about racism, so I think it’s safe to say we’re still a ways away from any major, self-initiated transformation of today’s power structures.
And that’s why I think marginalized people should be talking about discrimination and oppression every chance they get. It can be exhausting and difficult to listen to, but that’s how outsiders learn. That’s how messages sink in. It’s how structures change.
I think one of the beauties of social media (and there are some, despite all the other awfulness) is its ability to elevate minority voices that previously could be — and often were — ignored. Many people say we’ve become too politically correct these days, but you have to wonder if what’s really happening is that marginalized people, thanks to the Internet, now have a means of calling out racist, misogynist, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc. rhetoric that used to go unchecked. I kind of hope that’s what’s happening.
(On a related note, Global Sisters Report’s Africa and Middle East correspondent, Melanie Lidman, has started a WhatsApp group chat for African women religious. Download the app on a smartphone if you’re interested in joining the conversation and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to join.)
I guess what I really want to say here is that we should all be telling our stories and listening to the stories of others. I’m not sure there’s ever a place for silencing others or calling their stories of marginalization divisive and therefore unwanted. We’re all outsiders of some group and our privilege can make us blind to those groups’ needs. That’s why we need to listen and learn.
For as long as it takes.
[Dawn Cherie Araujo is Global Sisters Report staff writer, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]