Shortly after I started as division chair in 2017, Exemplary Girlfriend checked in with me:
How are you? How is life as division chair? Are you mired in bureaucracy? Or pleasantly surprised?
I am good. A little manic, actually. Mired doesn’t quite capture it. More like frenetic. Every day there is some new fairly major thing that lands on my plate, something that is a 2-50 hour job, always relying on pushing the right lever in the bureaucracy. I would not say pleasantly surprised. I would say energized by being a constant state of mild anger. It sounds bad, but it’s weird that I don’t mind it.
She captured exactly what was happening with me:
You are fueled by indignation.
Yes! That was exactly right.
Fast forward to 2020.
I haven’t posted anything about #blacklivesmatter. When I saw this post, on white silence in social media, especially this quote from Jelani Alladin, it made me reconsider my silence.
And you’re telling me that you have no hesitation posting a selfie of yourself… or what you’re eating for dinner, and yet you’re telling me that you’re afraid to say something because you might hurt other people’s feelings? Or you don’t know what to say? Or you don’t have an audience to reach? Were you thinking those things when you posted the other photos? I don’t think you were.
Here I am posting my stories about telemarketers and family milestones. Silent on police brutality, systemic racism, and white privilege.
It’s true that I don’t know what to say. It’s also true that if I say something, it may be the wrong thing, as I likely have terrible judgment of what the wrong thing is in this context. In this New York Times Opinion piece, the author Chad Sanders explains that “don’t feel that you need to respond” is a wrong thing to say to a Black person. Too bossy. We don’t get to tell him how to feel. He writes,
Not only are these people using me as a waste bin for guilt and shame, but they’re also instructing me on what not to feel, silencing me in the process. In an unusually honest admission of power imbalance, the texter is informing me I don’t have to respond.
Here’s my attempt to say something, in the form of an invitation to anyone reading this:
Fuel my indignation.
I’m working on it myself, but I’ll take your fuel, too.
I keep by my computer this list. The title is wisely silent There are so many instances when well-timed silence is better than speech. -when you don’t know what to say -when you don’t know how to say it. -when others don’t care to hear it. -when talking will hurt another. -when you may later regret it. -when saying nothing is the grandest eloquence. -when suffering prefers to remain mute. -when the heart is so heavy that speech seems light. -when calumny is to be answered best. Remember – The stars shine in silence and so can man. And then there’s the question “are you looking for a response?” Now if I could just practice what I preach- – –
Thanks, Granny! xoxo
Check my FB posts: trying to repost meaningful info and add fuel to our indignation. How can this still be going on in the US? Because white people thought it was “their” problem. Now, it is clear, so clear, that racism is OUR problem and our mess to clean up.
I will look for your FB posts. Thanks, Sue! xo
There has been much written about white silence and complicity. I recommend MLK’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, in which he laments the silence and inaction of white clergy and white people generally. I’ve also posted several pieces on my FB page, all aimed at white friends who want to learn more about the US history of racial oppression and its evolution into our current structural racism. More recently the NYT magazine has had good articles on reparations https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/24/magazine/reparations-slavery.html?searchResultPosition=6 and caste https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/01/magazine/isabel-wilkerson-caste.html?searchResultPosition=2. The latter is by Isabel Wilkerson, whose work I greatly admire – I recommend her book The Warmth of Other Suns. I don’t know how well versed you are on US history of slavery Jim Crow and current race issues. If you’l like to learn more, I’ll recommend more to read or watch. The more you know, the more your indignation will be fueled, and the better you will know what to say or do.