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We're into the home stretch of exploring the many ways we have avoided discussing race in America with Jona Olsson's essay, Detour Spotting. The topics we have covered have been varied and challenging But today's topic is one of the biggest and most deafening.

27) Silence

We stay silent.


Reality Check and Consequence

Our silence may be a product our guilt or fear of making people of color or white people angry with us or disappointed in us. We may be silent because our guilt stops us from disagreeing with people of color. We may be afraid that speaking out could result in losing some of our privilege. We may be silenced by fear of violence. The reasons for our silence are many, but each time we are silent we miss an opportunity to interrupt racism, or to act as an ally or to interact genuinely with people of color or other white people. And no anti-racist action is taken as long as we are silent.


Silence is an enabler. Saying nothing is like not saying no, which, as every opportunist understands, means yes. If you say nothing, that means you are not being critical of the words and behaviors you are witnessing. And that only serves to encourage the person acting. Silence allows everything to happen. It doesn't contradict. It doesn't criticize. It doesn't stop.

As Ms. Olsson suggests, silence may allow someone stating racist thoughts or committing racist acts to continue, or it could permit a person of color who has a concept that may not sit well with your own opinion free reign. If there is any hope of understanding, of working through this, of ever resolving racism, it will rely on communication. Silence assures that we will not be talking, which is why it could be our greatest enemy in any hope of resolving this.

Ms. Olsson adds an important footnote about this topic:

[A note about silence: Silence is a complicated matter. There are times when faced with a potential intervention situation that we may choose not to interrupt - for reasons of good sense or strategy. Anti-racists need courage, but taking foolish risks makes little sense. When the choice is between intervening in this moment, alone, or gathering allies to speak out later in a more strategic way, the latter may prove more effective. Though the fact remains: the racist incident in that moment was not interrupted.]

There is a need for safety and certainly going with one or two people to a KKK Meeting in a rural area would not be a prudent move. Still, her note here states it clearly: not talking is permissive and we need to work on what we allow against our fellow humans.

How do we break the silence?

The first thing we really need is some mutual respect. Far too often, when we attempt to discuss race in America, people are emotionally charged. This is likely due to the obvious point that we don't really discuss this issue with each other until some event happens: a shooting or a protest or a riot. Why we can't discuss race when there is no horrific element on that front is part of the problem. But if we don't have a sense of decorum and kindness for the other person in this discussion, we aren't going to get very far.

We have to be willing to listen. This isn't a case of one person talking and the other just remaining quiet. We have to share information. And the fact is, the views from these perspectives are so very different, we need to really pay attention to get an understanding about our discussion.

And we should work toward the understanding that we are all humans, that we have the same needs and many of the same wants, and that helping each other can help us achieve more success than fighting or ignoring each other. We should approach this, knowing that something here is wrong, that we can start resolving those issues and that we are capable of achieving a better world if we do.

If we can approach the conversation with a positive attitude, try to keep ego out, understand that we are telling our version of the truth and find some common ground, we can at least get things started.

Let's get things started.



Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight
6. Day Six - Lighten Up
7. Day Seven - Don't Blame Me
8. Day Eight - BWAME
9. Day Nine - We Have Overcome
10. Day Ten - The End Run
11. Day Eleven - Due Process
12. Day Twelve - By Association
13. Day Thirteen - The Penitent
14. Day Fourteen - White Wash
15. Day Fifteen - Not Here

XX. Intermission

16. Day Sixteen - Former Life
17. Day 17 - Straightening Up
18. Day 18 - The Isolationist
19. Day 19 - Blackwards
20. Day 20 - Teach Me
21. Day 21 - White on White
22. Day 22 - Smoke and Mirrors
23. Day 23 - Personal Work
24. Day 24 - Whites Only
25. Day 25 - The Accountant
26. Day 26 - Innocence

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