“My Silences Had Not Protected Me”

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.” – Audre Lorde

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.’- Zora Neale Hurston

My plan for this post was to thank all those who share their stories, those who have given me and others strength to speak, all those who did not allow themselves to be silenced by the loud criticism of Society. Somewhere along the line my piece ended up being about having to defend one’s rights to share experiences deemed “negative” by some.

I sensed I was not alone but I couldn’t be completely sure. I knew I was being fetishized, sexually harassed, exotified, treated as a stereotype, and exposed to racial microaggressions. I wanted to talk to other women who might have had similar experiences and some knowledge about these things. So I read about other women’s experiences. I found stories of great courage and often relentlessness in their quest to have their say.  I realized  that the things I had felt were inconsequential, the things I had held on to for so long actually had meaning. I suddenly felt that as a collective of fearless voices, we are stronger.

But my triumphs have often been momentarily derailed by the “If you stop talking about it, it will go away,” crowd. I wish I believed that, that would be bliss. However, as a realist I’m far from convinced this is the case! I look back and think of the number of years that I was silent about certain issues but they were still there. That’s enough proof to show me that ignoring reality doesn’t make it go away.

Social media as a space in which discourse can happen has been a godsend to me in so many ways. it’s become a place where I can listen to people’s stories and learn more from  groups of people I might have never known much about before. But social media is also a place where we are advised not to discuss racism, feminism, for fear of rocking the boat. There are tactics used to silence us: threats of physical violence and death, and negative labelling, for example.

I came across the following quote last year and it spoke to me.

“I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”  
Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope

I find the above sentiment echoed in the many brave voices that have inspired me. These voices have come to me through various mediums but the important thing is they made me realize what a relief it must be to be able to share one’s experiences and stories.

Stories that I have been sharing recently have for some reason come from my 8 years in Africa. For some reason I’m beginning to reflect more on that time and how living there has impacted my identity. Specific news coming from Africa reminded me of one of my own experiences with racism over there. Was it negative of me for sharing the fact that I hadn’t been invited to my classmate’s birthday party because I was black and her parents didn’t like blacks? Could I have been a bit more positive perhaps and maybe not mentioned the fact that there is actually quite a bit of non-black on black racism in Africa?

To me, it doesn’t make sense to share censored stories, or to only share stories that support the master-narrative. People sense fakery and can’t relate to it. If platitudes were going to change the world, they would have done so long ago.

Why do we share? We want change obviously, we want healing, we want to connect with others. Discussing reality is not negative, it can help in giving voice. It’s not my job to bottle up my feelings, and spew out insipid expressions. If I write anything at all it has to be real.

Society often tries to silence us and make us feel bad about voicing our opinions and concerns. And sometimes those appeals for silence and changes in behaviour come from well-meaning people. I know they want to help but policing my words and actions isn’t helpful at all. Whenever a (black) woman talks passionately (and from her personal experience, I might add) does that make her threatening? Are we supposed to “know our place”?

Sharing our experiences is how we mobilize. When we do so we refuse to be complacent. We know that discourse will help to deconstruct faulty foundations. We know we are tired of the society that tells us it’s all in our head and we are just imagining it all. I am grateful to the people who do talk about race and gender issues so fearlessly. So many have sacrificed their lives to share what they believe in. Thank you for giving me the power and the strength to not give up on my own journey.

Through stories and sharing our experiences, we heal together and offer solutions; so much is possible.  If we keep quiet, the issues never go away; they are always there, repressed. I refuse to live in denial.


6 thoughts on ““My Silences Had Not Protected Me”

  1. Rowena,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Never let anyone tell you “it’s all in your head”. I feel revolted that racism is still so widespread in our 21st century society. Revolted and ashamed.

  2. Such a powerful post, Rowena. It is so infuriating that silence is so often mistaken for passive acceptance of whatever is being done to you. Society can be the cruelest place for all those who are just not brave enough to speak out. Racism of any shape and form is horrid. The people who support it by telling you that “it will go away” without you voicing your suffering are even more horrid.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us 🙂

    1. Thank you, Akylina, you’re lovely ❤ You're so right, I know how difficult it is to share one's voice and it's unfortunate (but perhaps expected?) that when we do find our voice people will take umbrage.
      Thanks again:)

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