Last week I read a story about a local Virginia waitress who was given a receipt back from a customer that said “we don’t tip black people.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I couldn’t believe how close I lived to this restaurant, to this horrible racist act. I felt really sad when I read it. Sad for the waitress, and sad for our country.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that it is the year 2017. I knew that Trump’s rhetoric was unacceptable the moment he declared his run for the Presidency. I knew right then that I would never vote for him, nor anyone like him. I did however, expect him to tone it down at some point and at least act like had some humanity. But, as we all know now, he did not. He just keeps getting worse, and he has empowered and given voice to the followers of his that are racist and/or sexist.
I never expected him to win, though technically he didn’t. I had more faith in my country. I never expected so many people to vote for him. I never expected Russia to interfere in the elections, making them void in my opinion. But this is the reality we face now. The question is what do we do about it?
I am a chronically ill person and a mom. I don’t have a big following on social media, and I don’t really care. What I do care about is having a voice and sharing it. I also care about making a difference no matter how small, and helping others when I can.
I grew up in a suburb of New York City. I was shy, neglected, and allowed people to walk all over me. That continued for many years until I finally found my truth. I finally found my voice. I realized that telling the truth does indeed set you free. I found that having a voice and sharing it is very cathartic. It is also necessary, especially now.
There were not many African American children in the area I grew up in. I went to a high school that wasn’t very diverse. It was mostly Irish and Italian Americans. I remember one incident where some of the boys were bullying one of the only African American students for no apparent reason. They were being very cruel and calling him offensive names. I just sat there and watched and didn’t say anything. I was shy and too nervous to speak up, or to stick up for him when it mattered most. After a few teachers came and broke up the altercation, I went over to one of them and gave my account of the situation. I told them that the boy did nothing wrong and was treated very badly. To this day I feel guilty about it. He had no one to stick up for him. I just sat there silent.
Another incident happened when I was looking for an apartment of my own. The landlord said to me “you can’t bring any black people here, the neighbors won’t approve.” I was so broke and desperate for an apartment that I just nodded and said that I was interested in the apartment. Blind acceptance once again.
There are probably more of these incidents from my youth, but these are the two that stick with me. I didn’t have my voice yet or any confidence. I didn’t do the right thing. I didn’t recognize my own white privilege.
Something changed in me after the shooting at Newtown. I completely broke down and had trouble getting over it. I began to heal by recognizing other people’s humanity despite all of the darkness. I struggled to find my own. Where had it been hiding? What had I actually done to help others? I took time to look within myself and I didn’t like what I saw. Though I was a wife and mother, and had a wonderful family, I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t using my voice. I hadn’t found it yet. I started writing a lot and it finally became clear who I was and what I wanted to do.
I didn’t want to sit in the shadows anymore. I wanted to continue to find my voice and use it to do some good in this world. My writing is one of the biggest ways I intend to do this. But, as a neighbor, citizen and friend I can do so much more. I no longer intend to be silent.
Silence can shut many doors. It can overcome you and blanket you with guilt. It can cause you to lose yourself and ignore your own truth. It can hurt others, it can cause much pain.
It can allow a harmful, intolerant person to gain much power. It can end relationships, it can end lives, it can ruin democracies.
I am tired of seeing and reading about other people being bullied or harassed just because of the color of their skin, or because of their religious or sexual identities. I am tired of the the rhetoric of our 45th President.
I am just one person. But one person can make a difference. Whether it’s in their own households by raising kind children, or in their communities by not staying silent while others are harassed or persecuted for no reason.
I promise to use my voice for good and to no longer remain silent. I will speak up when I hear others disparaging certain groups of people, or I will walk away when I have to. But I will not participate by remaining silent or nodding my head when I don’t actually agree.
I’ve done that for far too long and I am sorry.
Please join me and we will help to make our country more compassionate and tolerant. One voice at a time. One word at a time. One kind act at a time.
I will no longer be silent…