Racism: Staying Silent Is Not An Option

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2534005435_688cafb345_oWhen we don’t know what to say, we tend to keep quiet, but there are times when staying silent is not an option. This is one of those moments. It doesn’t matter what color of skin you were born with. It doesn’t matter which political or religious view you subscribe to. It doesn’t matter where you were born. Even if you don’t know what to say, break the silence on racism. We need to start somewhere and right now I feel the urge to ask my friends to join me in talking about difficult topics because it affects all of us. Yes, all of us. Get inspired just by reading this post by Amy Mascott.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.”

― Elie Wiesel

All lives matter. However, there is a growing perception that not everybody agrees with that. Just take a look at all the posts with #BlackLivesMatter. So many mothers fear for their children. So many friends of mine have had conversations they shouldn’t have with their black sons because they fear for their lives as they enter their teen years. Now that fear is extended to the moms of tweens, as we learn about the tragic death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a BB gun when Ohio police shot him this past weekend. I haven’t had to teach my son to be wary of police. I have that privilege simply because our skin is light. That is white privilege and it is real.

If you think this has nothing to do with race, think again. Just stop for a minute and consider whether the verdicts in Travyon Martin and Michael Brown’s cases would have been different if the colors were reversed. If George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson had been African American and their victims white, would it have changed the outcome? Would my friends who have kept silent have been okay with them being absolved if the victims were white? Would Tamir still be alive if his skin was lighter?

I get it. I get that if you haven’t walked in somebody’s shoes, you don’t feel like you have the right to give your opinion. I get that you are scared to be insensitive without meaning to hurt somebody with good intentions but a poor choice of words. I get it that sometimes we are scared to express a different point of view. But what message are you sending out by staying silent? “I want my friends to say something, anything, even when you don’t know what to say; tell me, show me, that you are listening,” says my friend Heather Barmore.

Aside from showing you care, speaking out is crucial if we want things to change. As Stacey Ferguson, cofounder of Blogalicious and a mom of 3, mentions, “Everybody has a right to comment. They do not have a right to tell blacks how to feel, or to try to explain away the racism. But nothing will change, ever, unless whites are at the forefront of the effort.”

If you’re a parent, you need to talk about racism, prejudice, and discrimination with your children. Yes, it’s hard. My own kids ask me questions I cannot answer. Yet even if I am unable to explain things I have a hard time figuring out myself, I always go back to the importance of valuing life, of respecting one another and what we can do to build bridges and change things for the better. I go back to our core family values and how they can impact other people’s lives when we stand up for what we feel is right.

“No one has all of the answers to everything but that is why we ask questions. Humans are inherently curious and we question in order to gain some understanding of a situation – any situation. I want and hope that my White friends speak up when they see racial injustice but to also take the time to attempt to understand systemic racism and the concept of white privilege,” says Heather Barmore.

As a triple minority (I’m a woman, Latina and Jewish) I am no stranger to discrimination and prejudice. Since my looks might not conform to the stereotype people have of what a Latina or a Jew looks like, there are many times that I have heard racist or anti-Semitic remarks or jokes. When I went to college in Chile, an Anthropology professor even told me at the beginning of the school year, that he hoped that by the end of the term that I would realize how wrong I was and would convert to Catholicism. A classmate told me that when she found out I was Jewish it explained why I was doing so well in my classes. I used to hide my Jewish star (Magen David) pendant to avoid uncomfortable situations, which is why I probably got so emotional when my own son asked me whether he should take off his symbol of Judaism.

Back in the US, where I was born and have lived for the past 17 years, I once had to confront a group of older women who were complaining about how lazy all Hispanics are. I asked them whether they thought I was lazy. One of them looked at me and replied “Of course not!” and then I said, “In case you didn’t know, I’m Latina. My parents are from Chile, in South America.” She then proceeded to say that they weren’t referring to me but the others. I respectfully disagreed but got nowhere with my arguments and sadly realized that there was nothing I could say or do to persuade them to change their views.

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

― Elie Wiesel

That’s the sad part. The older people get, the more set in their ways. However, I’m focusing my energies on my friends and our children. We are shaping our kids’ views of the world, of injustice, of inequality and what needs to be changed with every single word we say in front of them, with every act of indifference or of outrage. If your child doesn’t see that you care, he or she might feel he shouldn’t either.

So as my friend Amy Mascott said so brilliantly last week, something has to change and it starts here. Please join me and break the silence.  Practice empathy and kindness. I refuse to believe racism is stronger than us.

“I want my friends to say something, anything, even when you don’t know what to say; tell me, show me, that you are listening,”

Heather Barmore.


Note: when I wrote that all lives matter I did not intend in any way to use it to respond to #BlackLivesMatter.  I had no idea that phrase was being used by those trying to invalidate the very valid feelings of those enraged by the deaths of so many young boys and teens. My apologies if my words were misconstrued.

Photo: Flickr/JamieSkinner00

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