I started a blog post at the beginning of this year that I never finished. It was tentatively titled “On Speaking Up in 2014” and it was inspired by my friend Osheta Moore. Osheta wrote a fantastic viral blog post that called for white Southern lady-bloggers like me to use our voices to validate the experiences of non-white women who did not have our same privilege. Osheta wrote (and I agree) that white women writers must realize that their ability to choose whether or not to speak about an issue is directly related to their privilege in that situation: by saying nothing, they lose nothing because they already have everything. In early January, I told myself that I would spend this year of “ATTACK” speaking up; I wanted to practice taking risks in small ways so I would be ready for the big moments when they arrived.
But speaking up is hard work, and a number of internet scandals and real life disasters have come and gone since the New Year and I haven’t even gotten around to publishing the draft blog post that says I want to practice participating! It’s pretty cozy over here on the sidelines, where I can roll my eyes at internet crazy from a safe distance.
I’ve ignored that inner voice a lot this year, but over the past week it came right out and surprised me. I saw something that I thought was wrong, and before I could count to ten and calculate potential liabilities and decide not to get involved in a messy situation it was too late. I was on the record saying THIS IS WRONG. THE PEOPLE WHO ARE HURTING ARE PEOPLE I LOVE. THEY MATTER. MAKE IT BETTER.
My words didn’t necessarily bring about a better result, but I received a surprising number of private messages from women who were afraid to speak until they heard my voice, who told me that they felt braver and stronger because I went first. They began to share their opinions too. The opinions were all different — of course we did not all agree — but we had a dialogue that was mostly healthy and that I was proud to participate in. This week was sad and stressful and there have been a couple of personal emergencies and family health crises on my mind. Each of the notes I received and each instance of robust and impassioned dialogue I witnessed has been special to me. I enjoyed seeing women I respect disagree well. It was beautiful.
And so, I pulled this draft blog post out and I’m dusting it off a bit. I’ve learned this year to get right to the point in my writing so here it is:
We often think about oppressors as them. But sometimes the oppressors are us. Sometimes we are the ones whom we should be speaking against. When the people we love and respect are the ones committing wrongful actions (whether it is a relatively minor power imbalance or something big and terrible like systemic racism or institutional poverty) it is so much harder. Because then we have to not just speak out for the weak, but speak against those we love. That is WAY WORSE.
But even when we disagree with those we love, staying silent doesn’t reconcile or redeem. We may think it is noble to stay silent to preserve relationships; we may even call this “peacemaking” and claim our special place among the Blesseds. It is not. It is not noble to protect the feelings of the majority at the expense of the minority. It is not peacemaking to sit quietly and watch evil or fear or prejudice or injustice run the world. That is just plain old self-interestedness, the kind that reinforces majority status and others everyone else. And really, there are enough people reinforcing majority status and othering everyone else. It’s time to be real reconcilers, real peacemakers. We can do that by starting a conversation.