White silence equals racial violence, it isn’t O.K.

In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, protests for the Black Lives Matter Movement have taken over the world. 

In New Zealand, for example, leaders have shifted away from arming police officers in an effort to show their solidarity with the BLM Movement. Protests took place in cities including Berlin, London, Seoul, Karachi, Tel Aviv and even Tunisia. 

From famous celebrities to common folk, people are enraged at the lack of change in the systemic oppression of black people, especially under the hands of police officers. 

Some argue that police officers should be educated, require a bachelor’s degree in some social science and tested for potential prejudices before being given their position of power. 

Others say cops should be trained longer. The example being passed around is cosmetologists, who are required to complete 1,250 hours of training, whereas police officers are only required to complete 850 hours. 

According to the State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, of the 850 hours of training, 110 are used for firearm training and only eight are used for conflict management. 

Many people are urging others to speak up, use their voices and use their privilege to make a change. “Silence is violence” is a common rallying cry amongst the peaceful protesters. 

It’s important for people to speak up about the issue. Typically, when a person doesn’t talk about something, it’s because they don’t know about it. With how prevalent the protests are on social media and the news, it’s obvious that people know about the movement and the protests. 

The matter becomes that people are informed, and yet they still haven’t said anything, done anything or made an effort to help. This behavior exhibits disinterest. Even if it isn’t your intention, the implication is heavy. 

From the perspective of a non-black person of color, here is why silence is perceived as violence. 

When I was a kid, I was bullied. Every time I took a complaint to the teachers, they’d tell me not to react, to stay silent and to avoid the kids harassing me. They told me if I didn’t react, the kids picking on me would get bored and move on. Of course, none of that advice helped because I continued to get heckled. 

I had a number of characteristics that would have been susceptible to being bullied: I had a speech impediment growing up, I didn’t speak proper English and I was very underweight. Instead, I was picked on for being a different race. 

As a child, I didn’t realize that I looked different from other kids. I assumed there was something inherently wrong with me. The only thing that stuck with me was that I was getting bullied and being told to be quiet about it. 

It got to the extent that I was being physically abused. I told teachers yet again to put a stop to it, and still nothing was done. 

I once tattled on a POC (person of color) kid, and he got suspended for a week. That struck me as weird. I had taken complaints to teachers about various students multiple times for hitting me, but I had only complained about the POC kid once for using a slur. It wasn’t until years later that I realized white privilege was acting in place for the other students. 

The point of the story is not to garner pity, but to put things into perspective. 

Being told to be silent, while I was hurt emotionally and physically, messed with my self esteem. No one seemed to hear when I spoke up about my problems, making me believe it was my fault or that I was overreacting. I was repeatedly attacked in the same, unfair manner, and nothing was being done to change it. It was frustrating and manifested as self doubt, rage and aggression. 

When white peers don’t speak out for a black person’s rights, it feels like being told to be quiet and complacent in your own oppression. It feels like your problems aren’t significant enough to even mention.

White people have this secret super power in their whiteness that protects them from facing injustices as harshly as black people do. When they don’t use their voices, it frustrates black people that the potential is wasted. It’s like saving the perfect bite of your sandwich and finding your dog snatched it off your plate while you answered the door.

Many people prefer to remain neutral, citing that there are valid points on both sides of the argument. 

The problem with this mentality is that no compromise or change is happening. Instead of picking a left or a right turn on a road that doesn’t go straight, the person choosing to be neutral is driving their trolley into the wall ahead. 

Picking a side doesn’t mean you can’t support points the other side is making, nor does it mean you support every point the side you picked has made. For example, I don’t agree that abolishing the police would be the right move. The police, if trained properly, are a useful tool for maintaining crime in a society. 

However, I agree that the police are over funded. Education, housing, public health and youth services would benefit greatly by providing marginalized communities (often over-policed) with necessities. This would, in turn, reduce crime. 

Picking a side shows that you stand in solidarity with humanity. The Black Lives Matter Movement isn’t about marking black lives as more important, but rather highlighting that black lives are in danger in an unfair systemic clash that needs resolving. 

By saying Black Lives Matter, you are saying that everyone should have equal rights and be treated with the same level of respect. 

Some people fear speaking out about their opinions because of potential consequences. 

For example, many people work for corporations that have asked their employees to remove any mention of their employment at the establishment to remain politically neutral. (For a business that is trying to make money, this seems like the right tactic. They want everyone’s money, not just the side they might be affiliated with because of their employees). 

In this case, I believe it’s possible not to speak about the issue, but to compensate with your actions. Going to a protest, donating money and spreading awareness are important parts of any movement; you don’t have to publicize your efforts, but you should be making efforts, especially if it’s a cause that you believe in. 

There is no point in believing in a movement if you don’t do anything to help. After all, doing nothing to help is what the people who don’t believe in the cause are doing. 

Lastly, everyone wants to make a change in the world. When a movement of such historical magnitude is taking place, the opportunity to be involved is once in a lifetime. 

With much time to self reflect this summer while in quarantine or while social distancing, I want you to think for yourself. How can you use your voice, your privilege or your status to help a cause that simply asks for a second chance to breathe?