Silence. This is the void of voices in response to the massacre of queer folk enjoying a night out at a club. Silence. This is the void of voices in response to dogs being set upon native water protectors in southern North Dakota. Silence. This is the void of voices in response to an unarmed black man being shot by police when his car stalled on a two-lane road.
You can tell a lot about a society by how it uses its voice. Societies which speak out against injustice and social atrocities demonstrate to their people and the world their dedication to the welfare of their people and humanity as a whole. Conversely, societies which lift their voice in ugly threats against those who speak out against injustice demonstrate the key symptom of empathic decay. The former nation is to be praised, while the latter should terrify and appall us. Sadly, the last couple of years in the United States have demonstrated just how ill we are.
If watching #BlackLivesMatter, the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement, the transgender bathroom brouhaha, and now the #noDAPL movement have shown us anything, it is just how divided we are as a nation. And those divisions follow ethnic and gender lines. It seems that history has taught us nothing about the dangers of segregation, racism, misogyny, and sex/gender based hatred and how they leave deep, putrid wounds in the flesh of our society.
In the 1950s/60s it was out-in-out race war with white supremacists lynching people of color, setting dogs upon them, and even bombing their churches. In the 2010s we are watching people of color being slaughtered by trigger-happy police officers. We blame those who have died of “disobedience towards police.” We dismiss the claims of protestors in southern North Dakota– whose only crime is a desire to protect the water of the Missouri River and their sacred burial grounds– because “they have no sovereignty over the land.” All the while we are completely silent on the fact that privileged white ranchers took captive federal lands in the west, undertook armed, unauthorized vigilante guards, and not one shot was fired by the largely white police forces who stood by meekly as crazed white men waved firearms in their faces.
In the 1950s/60s we told people of color that they were undeserving of eating in the white presence, of using the same bathroom as white people, and as drinking water from the same fountain as white people. Today, we are telling transgender people that, in performing the most basic human function of using the toilet, that they are somehow a threat to others and deserve to be placed in situations which do not affirm their identities and even put them in greater risk of victimization. At the same time we are silent in the face of white male rapists who go without jail time or are released early because “prison would be too harsh for them.”
Our silence is much louder than we might think.
Yet across this land of ours, voices are piping up and saying, “whoa, hang on a minute!” There are those like Colin Kaepernick who are taking a public sit and refusing to remain silent. There are people like Ryland Kelting telling the nation what it’s like to be transgender in America, electing to be vocal about his identity rather than cloaking his identity in silence. And there are people like Mary Black and Gabriel Guiboche who choose to sing their stories of native oppression and native history than remain silently complicit in oppression.
Silence is a powerful indication of the illness of our nation. Yet, silence is not so powerful that it can stifle voices raised in protest. And voices will indeed be raised in opposition to oppression. If it is not yours, it will be the voice of another. Will you be a silent oppressor? Or will you speak out, now?