Your Silence Aids and Abets Violent Oppression

By: Abeer Tijani.

The last time that I tried to sit down and write something like this, it was about two weeks ago. Ahmaud Arbery’s face was plastered all across my social media accounts, and I was doggedly avoiding the traumatizing video of his death circulating around the internet--which, was a reminder of the value a seemingly already desensitized country has placed on a black body: none. I struggled to grapple with my exasperation and attempted to find words that could somehow build a case as to why a black life should matter in the eyes of the law and America’s inhabitants. I struggled, and I failed. I was lost as to why, time and time again, America’s black citizens have been subjected to tirelessly defending their literal humanity, when that supposed humanity should be enough basis to argue against the lynching, terrorizing, and pure subjugation of black lives. I struggled, and I failed, and eventually, Ahmaud’s name was compartmentalized by a part of my brain that had begun to serve as a memorial ground for the countless named and unnamed black bodies that have been martyred recklessly and unabashedly by the brute force of racism that runs this country.

Two weeks later, I didn’t forget, because it’s hard to forget the faces and names of people who could so easily be you, or a friend, or a family member, but for the sake of my own sanity, I decided to gently tuck away the outrage and disgust that I felt so as to not overwhelm myself more than necessary in the midst of a pandemic. (I read that sentence over and over again; I am defending my life, and the lives of people who look like me, during a time where the pressure to live and protect yourself from a virus weighs heavily on your conscious daily). I, unfortunately, I am not rewarded the grand privilege of being able to turn the other cheek. I cannot afford to ignore America’s long, historical animalization of black bodies simply because I am uncomfortable, or tired of the hashtags I have been seeing since age twelve. I don’t get to ever fully shut off because the color of my skin doesn’t suddenly shut off when I leave my home and face a world that takes me in first at skin color, and then at human being. Unlike many of my non-black peers, I do not get to walk through life without antagonizing over the very real consequences of having your race be weaponized in America.

So here I am, two weeks later, with the same pit in my stomach, with the same sinking realization that there is a stark difference between the security I long for with personal safety and prosperity (to be able to run outside, to be heard when speaking, to be respected in the various spaces that I occupy), and that of my nonblack friends—the security that they are entitled to, just by way of being anything else but black in this country. My focus is not to write a eulogy for the countless black bodies that have been butchered and cast aside by the majority of the American population—whether by bloodshed, or the more widespread and dangerous apathetic attitude living inside of nonblack residents--, but to simply address my nonblack peers who do not understand the deadliness that silence holds in this country.

This is especially for my peers who feel as though “it is not their place” to speak on race issues in America, or that “feel uncomfortable talking about race” or “can’t believe that race is still an issue in 2020”—the fact that your pain only extends to woeful ignorance, discomfort, or perhaps solidarity in mourning victims, is an astronomical entitlement that you have been awarded over me. We are all aware that it is never easy to stand behind controversial issues, and that it can feel as though you’re shouting into a void trying to get people to care about what seems to make perfect sense to you. Our generation has begun to champion climate change activism, has pushed for the transformation of feminism against years of patriarchal normality, and was the generation to continue demanding more for LGBTQ relations in America. But when it comes to race relations, particularly the race issues unique to black people, the silence from our generation becomes almost unbearable. Perhaps this is because the aforementioned issues do not force us to examine the uglier parts of our psyche—the parts that are perpetuating police terrorism or covert white supremacy—the way that the Black Lives Matter movement does? Is the refusal to examine your internalized racism worth being able to inaccurately say that you aren’t at all racist? Because for me, and others like me, it does not stop at those feelings of discomfort; it becomes a matter of life or death. A matter of at times feeling as though we are begging for something that should be the most common of the senses: for our lives to be valued the same way as the person standing in front of us for no other reason besides sharing a common bond in humanity.

Therefore, as a nonblack person living in America—whether permanently or just for four years of university—the onus is on you to step outside of your discomfort and sympathy and reach into your empathy. If you’re “afraid of saying the wrong thing”, say it anyway. There will be someone to correct you. How could you ever begin to learn, and more importantly, to fight against racism’s permeation throughout society, if you allow your fear to paralyze you in the same spot that we have occupied for the last 8, 60, 400 years? It could start with doing more than reposting something on social media to appease your guilty conscious. Start educating yourself on all the ways in which race perversely propagates inequality throughout our society, and then start having those conversations with the people around you. By not engaging in these issues--whether through conversation or figuring out how you can understand and unsheathe the different levels of racial interactions in this country, the ways in which they have subconsciously been ingrained in you, and why they have been subconsciously ingrained in you—you’re staying in a dangerous area of comfort that will not aid in combating 400 years of oppression (context: it’s only been 56 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed, there have been multiple iterations of it, and we still haven’t gotten it right—there’s years of catch up work to do). If you choose to stay comfortable, that silence will fuel your future: you will be perpetuating this cycle as a healthcare worker unable to understand the ways in which race inequalities affect a black person’s health, or a university professor unable to provide the support needed to amplify your black students’ voices in classrooms, or as a policymaker missing the mark on crafting policy that will actually benefit black communities in America.

I am not here to provide concrete solutions for you or ways to appease your guilty consciousness’ complicity. I am not the spokesperson for the complex black experience in America. I am simply someone who has a voice and has chosen to use it in some capacity. I cannot force you into conversation, but I genuinely hope that you one day feel the urge to have these conversations. As college students, our social consciousness and energy for advocacy is probably the highest it will ever be right now. Coupled with the untethering of normal social order that has come with COVID-19, our collective human consciousness should be at an all-time high right now. Yet, we still feel weary. Consider: if black lives are not protected during the most vulnerable time we are experiencing as a generation, what can we expect in the world that is waiting for us after the pandemic ends?

Do you like the answer that came to your mind?