One of the most confounding and frustrating aspects of living as a person of African descent in this country is how the majority population responds to our depictions of racism. Responses take various forms but essentially boil down to “suffer in silence.” People of African descent who expose racist acts or who continually speak out against racism are charged with being divisive, race baiting, overreacting, and the list goes on. Well meaning people have said and sincerely believe that those who are being oppressed by racism make their condition worse by speaking out. These well meaning folks advise silence as the solution and this is frustrating for the person being oppressed.
History does not support this claim. Oppression has never ended simply because the oppressor came to his or her senses. There has to be pressure applied in order for change to occur. In this situation, the change will only come when it is no longer only the minorities who are speaking out. There are those of good will that want to see racism end but are uncomfortable and may even feel attacked when racism is exposed. The hurdle is to not take the exposure as a personal attack but simply as a statement of fact. We are still a country that has a way to go before we are truly the “land of the free and home of the brave.” We have ways to go before we are can truly say, “with liberty and justice for ALL.”
The command to stop talking about racism; to keep silent is an affront to the struggle to end racism. As well intended as this advice or instruction (which is problematic as well) may be, it denies a certain dignity to those who are suffering. Richard Rohr writes, “The body can live without food easier than the soul can live without meaning.” By telling a group of people to be quiet and stop talking about your suffering you are saying your life does not have meaning. Your life is not even worth talking about never mind being worth saving. So please, don’t tell someone who is suffering from the effects of racism to be quiet and stop talking about it. Instead, tell the racist to stop being racist.