Silence is complicity


silence-390331_1280It was always there. It kept to the shadows. It stayed, a whispered monster revered among its small groups of worshipers. We didn’t think it would ever be brave enough to come out into the light. We didn’t think it could ever be that strong. Its days of glory were gone, relegated to the pages of History books that we read and wondered how anyone could ever let it come out into the light like that.

Hatred.

Prejudice.

Racism.

Bigotry.

It has been growing stronger over the last year and over the last week, it has become brave. The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 200 complaints of hate crimes since Election Day, according to USA Today.

It wrote “Heil Trump” and “Fag Church” and drew a swastika on the walls of an Episcopal churchIt shouted threats and whispered intimidation. It picked fights. It used fear like it’s best weapon.

It echoed through high schools and colleges. In its wake, it left behind fear.

How lovely it was to be white, to not be Muslim, to be what is considered “normal.” Now, it’s creeping out into the light, and we’re trying so hard not to pay attention. We’re doing everything we can to pretend not to see it. I should know. I have a lot of practice doing this.

I’m not sure why this happens but it seems to be a normal occurrence that people see my white skin and think that in me they have found someone who will understand their feeling about people of color. A woman told me in the parking lot of the grocery story how the latinos in the store were all so rude and they should speak English. Sometimes it’s not what they say but it’s how they say it. Their voices drop down to just above a whisper when they tell me how some girl we know is dating a black man. They tell me that of course not all latinos are bad but just the ones that live near them are. They assure me that I don’t understand because I don’t live where they live.

They tell me how they really feel about Muslims, about refugees, how we can’t trust any of them, that they could all be terrorists. If I’m lucky I get to hear their usually limited view of the Koran. They don’t like where they want to build their mosques. They don’t like how they pray. They don’t like how they wear their hijabs.

I also get to hear comments on gay people. How what they do is disgusting. How they choose to be how they are. I even get to see a children’s video on God’s view of gay people. Somehow, gay people are ruining marriage for all of us. I’ve had someone close to me say that two gay men shouldn’t be able to adopt children because they will molest them. Of course, who can forget the huge debate that raged on about where transexuals use public bathrooms? A hair stylist brought that up to me just a few weeks ago. She didn’t say anything but she gave me a look, eyebrows raised, the look that said, I’m just waiting for you to give me the go ahead to tell you exactly what I think.

These are all things that I hear in real life. This isn’t from people hiding behind computer screens. This is from people I know and love. This is from strangers in parking lots or in stores or in hair salons indulging in small talk that suddenly takes a dark turn. They see my white skin, my normal American life as a stay-at-home-mom with a husband and two kids and they think that they can say what they want to me and I will be their ally, that I will understand then and I will agree.

I don’t agree but until now I haven’t said too much. I wanted to pretend I couldn’t see it. I kept my mouth shut even when I didn’t agree and worked hard to justify not speaking out. I would say that obviously the person didn’t mean what they said. She doesn’t actually feel that all Latinos are rude.  I would think that there was no point in saying anything. I wasn’t going to change her mind. I would tell myself that I didn’t want to make everyone uncomfortable. If he really feels that way, it’s not really going to effect anyone. He’s just one person. I had a list of excuses that I would make, but none of them ever really felt good enough. I would walk away feeling uncomfortable, feeling like a coward and knowing that whoever I was talking to was right when they thought I was an ally. When the conversation was done, they still probably felt like I agreed with them.

And for all of my excuses, they were all to make me feel better about myself for not saying anything. I told myself that I was empathizing, that I was trying to understand how other people, that I was accepting all people even if I didn’t agree with them. Oh, the hoops I jumped through to justify my silence.

The prejudices and bigotry leaked out from the shadows and I looked away.

I’m not going to look away anymore. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t hear what was said. I’m not going to be silent. When I speak out, I might not be polite about it.

About other things, I’m still trying to be open-minded. If you want to talk about politics or our government, I’m ready. If you want to talk about this past election and have a constructive conversation about the president-elect Trump and the future of our country, I can do that too. If you want to talk about the protests over the last week and whether they are riots or protests protected by the second amendment, let’s go. You don’t have to agree with me. I won’t feel like I have to change your mind. We can just talk. We can share ideas. We’re all Americans after all.

We’re all human beings.

But, if you want to talk to me about generalizations that you are making on a whole group of people based on your limited experience or based on some fake news story on Facebook, I’m going to tell you I don’t want to hear it. I’m not going to listen to your view points on why all Muslims are dangerous. I have a strong aversion to religion but I’ll still defend everyone’s freedom to practice it. I don’t want to hear any hate speak at all about gay people or transexuals or really anyone.

My mom always liked to repeat that old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

So, if I can’t urge you to change how you feel about the people in our society that are marginalized, if I can’t get you to change your biases toward them, then I’m going to ask you to watch your mouth when you’re talking to me.  I’m taking this seriously.

I can’t kill this beast that is hatred and prejudice and bigotry, not when it seems to always survive, but I will fight to push it back to the shadows.

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