"and when we speak we are afraid/our words will not be heard/nor welcomed/but when we are silent/we are still afraid/So it is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive."--Audre Lorde"Just let it go."
"Are your really surprised he/she/they said that?"
"You're being too sensitive."
"Why are you so angry?"
"It's just a T.V. show/ a song/ a satirical news site/a book/a celebrity/a make up."
"They just want attention so why don't you ignore it?"
One thing I miss about a Maine winter is the silence that comes with a heavy snowfall. I'd often wake up right before dawn on those mornings, and just lie there surrounded by the quietness that always seemed to follow a heavy snow. Even the clanking and grinding of a snow plow's blade against the cement would be muffled, coming to me through layers of a cold barrier. It was insulating to be wrapped in my warm blankets while outside the world froze. It was the signal that the day would be spent with coffee and books and chocolate. I'd not have to get dressed or go anywhere. I'd be safe inside the bubble of my own warm world free from the noise that normally infiltrated even my quietest places.
Looking back, I realize this was not a world I wanted to be stuck in all the time. Rather it was a retreat, a safe time to process, to kick back, to just let go of things. Even when I was within this world, the outside penetrated in small ways. Worries about those who didn't have electricity (a deadly thing in a Maine winter), worries about those who had to travel (like my father who drives a trailer truck), worries about the homeless. Because I couldn't forget that while I warm and insulated there were others who were not.
Our peace always comes with a price, perhaps.
For a long time, I remained silent. I ranted to H of course. I convinced myself that my words were not going to do much anyway. I wrapped myself in the cloak of academic indifference and let my opinions only reflect a carefully cultivated objectiveness. In school, I created the same kind of world I had on snow days. The ivory tower of the academy became a little room in which I muffled all the knockings of the outside world. I filtered my indignation through study, and was able to damper my "emotional" response to things. I no longer shouted during class meetings. My passion was a more reserved response if you can call what I did a response. Or passion.
And then one day, a ten year old boy told H to "go home." People started to tell me that my oldest daughter "needed help." That there was "something wrong with her." My son started having seizures. My other daughter began to have panic attacks. States around me started passing laws that would make it legal for the police to stop my husband and demand proof of residency because he was brown. Gay people were being denied the legal rights of marriage. Lawmakers were increasingly infringing upon a women's rights to control her body. And then I found out my fetus had Down syndrome. And the world explode into sound. The muffling had crumbled in the face of such an onslaught and all the voices crashed upon me.
For a few months, I was pretty immobile, over-whelmed by the injustice. I did not know what to do. How to fight. I heard the voices telling me that I shouldn't get involved. I should observe. But without my academic credentials what good did observation do? I no longer could pretend that my academic work was somehow going to change the world. When I started to tentatively write about these things on my blog, I was told I was angry, and often asked if I really thought I was doing any good. When I confronted people, I was "mean" and a "bully." When I challenged things like the Onion or a make up company, people mocked the "pettiness" of these concerns. Why not focus on things like real writers in real papers? Who cares that a make up company uses a term like "Celebrtard"?
But something had been stirring in me. Something that had come from those cold winters. An activism I had laid to rest too early. I remember especially as I began to wake up the words of Audre Lorde.
I do not speak for you. I speak to you. I speak because to not speak would be unethical and injustice. I can not make you hear me or take my words for a stroll but that does not mean I must remain silent. What I experienced before was like a death. Now I am alive and awake. I am not insulated against the pain of the world or the unjustness of this time. I am awake, and while I am afraid, I am not silent. My silence did not protect me. It will not protect me. It will not protect my children. Or my husband. It will not protect the poor, the wretched, the abused.
I speak not because I have grand plans to change the world with my single voice. I speak so that maybe just one person will hear. I speak because not to speak is to lay down arms, and I will not lay down arms.
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