Write something real they said. Say how you feel they encouraged. Your words matter. Your story is relevant. I heard this over and over. And yet, I was constantly held back from being utterly and unapologetically authentic. I stood in a powerful room and declared to my team and world leaders that I was a warrior for the female voice. I said it out loud; I meant it. And yet, when I sat down to write, to describe my experiences, and share my viewpoints, I found voices in my head enacting walls. The same walls I wanted to rip down and decimate for others. I encouraged my clients, friends, and readers to speak out. To say the hard thing, to use their voice to bring change. That the world needed to hear their war cry. And yet, I wasn’t willing to let myself do the same because I was, in every sense of the word: privileged. What right did I have to share my story? Why did my experience matter when so many other’s were worse off? Struggling more? Facing exponential danger?
I have toyed with this notion for months, and for too long it kept me silent because I hadn’t come to a conclusion or an answer. I wanted to have a beginning, middle, end. I wanted to have a moral, or a solution, a concluding paragraph on what I had come up with or solved. I wanted to have the perfect approach, where readers, peers, and strangers would say “she gets it.”
But I don’t get it, and I don’t have the “perfect” anything. I haven’t lived in the shoes of trans-women, I haven’t walked down the street as a woman with dark brown skin. Yes I have been a target, and yes I feel unsafe on the street, but I have the privilege of walking by a police officer knowing that I am not suddenly suspect. I have the privilege of knowing my family is safe in their homes, and that someone at any time won’t come in and deport them, or beat, arrest or shoot them because of the color of their skin. And admitting that, not just to myself, but in my writing is paramount. I will never know all the stories, all the struggles, I will never live all of them. And to not share my experiences because of that is just another form of how we silence each other, and ourselves. So yes I may say something that offends, or is “missing it,” but I rather do that, understand why, learn from it, and be in conversation with everyone, than stay silent with fear of messing up. How can I be in community with my women, if I don’t speak up for fear of saying it wrong or coming across ignorant. We are ALL naive in that no one is privy to the complete experiences and realities of others. That isn’t a reason to shut up, it’s a reason to speak up so you can have conversation. Learn. Share. Truly see one another, and be willing to be seen, to be criticized, to be told how your words land, what your actions signify. Be willing to admit you don’t have all the answers, you haven’t walked in anyone else’s shoes, you don’t know it ALL. No one is expecting you to. But I think it’s time for those of us with a lifetime of privilege to step out of our comfort zones to be true allies. Hiding behind silence and not wanting to say it wrong is a choice, and it not only perpetuates oppression, but also privilege.
I was so concerned with writing about my experience in a way that would please everyone, that I was consciously choosing to silence myself. I realized my privilege was on a whole other level- it was some meta shit. Here I was afraid to speak up about my experience because I am not the most marginalized of women, because I am a jewish woman of olive skin and white privilege. THAT in and of itself is PRIVILEGE. While others are being driven over, murdered, beaten by cops, systemically oppressed, I was stressing over sharing my experience in a way that wouldn’t offend or make someone question my knowledge. It is a god damn privilege sitting behind my computer, in my apartment in the most expensive U.S. city, CHOOSING to be silent because I didn’t have the perfect words to use, or the most non-offensive knowledgeable thing to say. WOE IS ME (barf).
I woke up this morning and realized that not only was I letting fear, control, and perfection run the show, I was suffocating my own voice, and for what? Because I didn’t know where I fit into this? Because I had inconclusive conversations with others regarding how and if my Jewish and Ashkenazi blood categorized me as a POC? Because I didn’t have the answer? Because I was afraid someone would call me out and let me know I had offended them or wasn’t “getting it”? What if I wrote it all out, jagged and unsure, and let it be what it was? What good would it to do to be wrapped up and “perfect” so that no one would be annoyed or upset with me? Here I am Standing for and believing women should fight against that very thing, and yet I wasn’t letting myself come fully through my writing because I didn’t have all the answers, because I didn’t know the right or perfect thing to say. Because I didn’t want to be seen as just another stupid middle class white woman who didn’t get it.
I was afraid to speak on subjects with regards to my role as Woman because I knew others had struggled in ways that were exponentially more dangerous, terrifying, and life changing than mine. I wasn’t convinced I could share about my personal experiences, and what my political, social, and emotional thoughts were, in a way that wouldn’t potentially piss another woman off, or make someone say “what the fuck does this white girl know about anything?” I was so concerned with speaking correctly and knowledgeably on subjects, and not treading on others toes, that I was silencing myself. I was doing the very thing I am fighting against in my own room, IN MY OWN HEAD. While simultaneously, making it about myself.
I told myself I couldn’t speak out and share, until I fully understood. Until I knew that I wouldn’t sound utterly ignorant, and that I wouldn’t piss off my friends of color. Until I knew that my trans and non-cis gender friends would be pleased with what I wrote and not think I was “unaware.” I could go on and on, and I could sit in the murky silence and not put the fingers to keys until I had the full spectrum and knew every little thing, and wouldn’t look benighted. OR I could write and share my confusion, my concerns, my experience of unknowing, and stop making it about myself? Because how many of us are in this state? It was ridiculous of me to think I was alone in this space. It is important to share this unknowing, this confusion, this unclear space this unsure feeling because THAT IS an experience. And by being silent about it, we are stewing in complicity and our own comfortable privilege, whilst making it about us.
Silence is bullshit because it doesn’t cause change and it allows for things to go the same as they always have. Silence is bullshit because it means not actually being a part of the conversation and not being willing to hear others criticisms and concerns. It is a stagnant space, rather than a growing one. How can you learn how to be an ally, how to be a part of the revolution, the struggle, if you aren’t willing to be called out? If you aren’t willing to be “wrong” if you aren’t willing to hold space for another to tell you how your words came across? If you aren’t willing to look ignorant so as to create knowledge? If I didn’t say anything than people would think I understand. Um no. Silence is bullshit. It is denying others to teach you and share, it is denying yourself to learn, it is denying others space to respond and have space of their own to share.
Yes I don’t know the ins-and-outs of being a colored woman, yes I have never walked into a bar or male space as a trans-woman, yes I don’t know what it’s like to be seen as queer… What is wrong with admitting that? I was so wrapped up in the way I was going to come across, while other men and women are being beaten in the streets, while other women have to fear their children being murdered because of the color of their skin. I was so concerned over my voice coming from a woman of white privilege that I was keeping myself from learning and being a true ally, as I was making it about me.
A true ally isn’t sitting in silence afraid to be made wrong, a true ally is on the front lines willing to hear why their words offended, willing to take a step back and look at the picture a different way, willing to share the stage, the space, the information, the experience. Willing to give up the mic and just listen, and not have to one-up or explain, but merely take in everything that is being said. Willing to do the work, to learn about our systems here in the U.S. that oppress and incarcerate a majority of the black population, willing to pick up a book that isn’t––though should be––canonized, and reading authors who aren’t on “classic” lists or white, and then also being willing to see how they take part in what they are reading/learning about (for all my declared feminist and allies out there, give Angela Davis a whirl and get another viewpoint of the women’s suffrage and also abortion movement in this country, guarantee you will gain some serious insight, but don’t stop there). Willing to acknowledge that some people don’t want you as an ally, and that’s ok. THAT IS THEIR CHOICE AND it’s beautiful and honorable and respectful. Willing to admit that this whole “I don’t see color” narrative is bullshit. We all see color, the only people who claim they don’t are those who are uncomfortable admitting what their own color signifies. Willing to acknowledge what the color of their skin provides for them, and conversely how it adversely affects “Others.” It means being willing to admit that this is the United States, it is a country of terrorism, not merely from outsiders, but from the depths of our history, our laws, our systems, our cultures, our media, our movies, our education system, our parents, their parents, our statues, our friends and peers daily experiences, our cities, neighborhoods, gentrification, prisons, literature, our conversations, our white privilege.
I still don’t totally understand what to do, what to say, but…that’s okay, that means I can create conversations to hear these woman, and learn from them. It doesn’t mean I should shut up and avoid looking a certain way, it means I should put myself out there and create community and stop making it about me. It is a privilege to get to decide when and where you speak up, do not ignore that. By choosing to silence myself and not share, I was remaining in a space I have always known and been fortunate to have. A space of comfort and protection a space millions of women never got to have, and are fighting for. And for fear of looking a certain way, I remained safely in this space, and called myself an ally? Here were women every day who walk on the street and have to experience and be ready for confrontation, alienation, etc. It is not a choice, it is a daily part of their lives. It is what is. Discomfort, pain, danger, inequality… And I had the privilege of remaining quiet so as to not be called out. No. No. No. Silence is bullshit. Say it, hear it when you are told why it’s offensive or why you may not understand, accept that. It is ridiculous to think you won’t say something offensive or to think that anyone is expected to fully grasp another’s experience. You aren’t. But you are expected (at least how I see it) to LISTEN after you speak up, and to offer the same if not more space for others to speak. You are expected to learn about what you are fighting for. You are also expected to accept when others don’t want to answer your questions and don’t care that you declare yourself an ally.
Have I lived my life this way? No. I am absolutely a product of my society, but that isn’t a cop out. That is a truth. We all are. It is what we choose to do with the information and lives we have been given. It is up to us to decide how we want to interact and stand with our marginalized and oppressed counterparts. I have kept myself in a realm of white comfort by choosing to not say the hard thing, ask the hard question, or be told why it’s wrong or not “getting it.” Yes I have made a conscious effort and decision to step out of the canon and read more than the white history of the United States, but I have hid behind the books. From fear of being made wrong I have enacted what I think is actually wrong––which is saying nothing.
So I am writing this because I am tired of silencing my self in hopes of seeming “smart” in hopes of appearing “woke,” silence actually does the exact opposite. It is bullshit. What if I piss someone off? Good! Great opportunity to learn and start a new thread, a new chain of knowledge, a new understanding, a new relationship. If I live a life afraid of speaking up because it might make someone point out that I am privileged and white, well… I already know that, and they already know that. But by speaking up, and potentially being put in your place, and accepting and ruminating on what is said back, and creating space for them to share, you are forging a new path. A new relationship. A new space for you to be an ally. A chance for you to not make it about you.
And even as I write this I want to go back and delete and make sure I don’t say it in a certain way, or with a particular tone. But I am fighting that because I want to be in this conversation. I am an ally and that means being willing to speak up and be uncomfortable and be told why my words offend or don’t sit right. It is not okay for the white community to continue to bask in comfort. Social, physical, and mental comfort is a privilege. It is time to step out. Allow yourself to be put in your place. No I don’t know what it’s like to walk down the street as a black woman, and I shouldn’t pretend to. And that’s not what my intention is. My intention is to step out of silence and take whatever comes, because that is what my fellow women do every day. It is not okay to hide behind privilege and comfort and silence and claim to be an ally. Claiming you aren’t racist and then shutting up doesn’t make you an ally. This is our country, this is the truth. We live in a world and country where skin color determines your level of safety, the jobs you can get, the education you can afford. Please, my friends and white peers stop being surprised by recent acts in public spaces, this is the country and truth we live in. You acting surprised and saying this isn’t our America is 1. really fucking not true, and 2. offensive as hell, 3. it’s so utterly representative of your privilege that it makes you look like a real asshole. Its time we called each other out, we acknowledge our truths:
This is America, where white men can buy hundreds of torches and chant “Jews will not replace us”; this is America, the country my great grandparents fled for safety from jewish persecution in Russia; this is America where a woman is physically beaten every nine seconds; this is America where I walk down my street and grip pepper-spray; this is America where I have had men twice my size push me and call me cunt, where I have had homeless men pull my hair, and men who live in high rises look at me like they own me; this is also America where the color of my skin determines the opportunities I have at my fingers; this is America where nearly every one of my female friends has a story of harassment or assault; this is America where my white privilege is apparent in everything; this is America where men of tan skin are automatically terrorists, and women in hijabs “must be” harboring sons of ISIS; this is America where women are paid less, raped more; this is America where white men in power decide what women can and should do with their bodies; this is America where the black population is in constant physical danger from police officers, yet groups continue to chant “All Lives Matter”; this is America where your friends and family members claim not to be racist, but (insert laundry list); this is America where white boys are let off for raping women, but black men are sentenced to life in prison. This is America, land of the slaved, starved, beaten, raped, murdered, systemically oppressed. This is the land where “both sides are to blame.”
Silence is bullshit.