Not long ago I attended a lecture at Bowling Green State University as part of their “Beyond the Dream” series in conjunction with Black History Month. The speaker that evening was Opal Ayo Tometi, one of the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter. Her speech and dialogue with the audience was inspiring, thought-provoking and to me more than a little unsettling. Since hearing her speak, a little over a week ago, her words have tumbled over and over in my mind, causing me to reflect upon my own fallacies, biases and re-evaluate how I can be on the just side of history.
Tometi said that we are living in a history-making (with a capital “H”) moment in time. She talked about some of the other capital “H” time periods of the past. Like her, I can remember sitting in history classes learning about the horrible injustices and tragedies of our past. I too, read about the underground railroad that helped people escape from slavery, the bravery of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on the bus and the senseless, horrific murder of Emmet Till. I tried to picture what life would have been like back then and who I would have been. Would I have been brave enough to be part of the underground railroad? Would I have marched in solidarity with the people in Montgomery? I would like to unequivocally say of course I would have! I know that I would have seen the injustice, but I’m not so sure that I would have been brave enough to stand up to it. I was relieved to think that at least these atrocities and injustices were history. They were events that happened before I was born in a “different” time. Yet I only have to turn to my Twitter feed to be reminded that these types of atrocities and injustices are still very prevalent in our society today and that I am living in “this” time that will some day be my grandchildren’s “different” time.
One of the talking points that Tometi hit on hard was that acknowledging injustice and being aware of injustice is not enough. She went on to say that if you are silent and do nothing (even if you are not the perpetrator of the injustice) that you are complicit. Silence equals complicity. Those words won’t stop haunting me. Those words were my wake up call. From my earliest blog posts/newspaper columns, I’ve tended to focus on the silver linings of life, the little things that make you feel warm inside and smile. I’ve tried to avoid writing about topics that stir up feelings of anger, pain and despair. My philosophy has always been to remain uninvolved and refrain from commenting in social media or sharing my opinions in conversations if they differed or would cause conflict. My notion that if I quit reading the news, stopped following people whose opinions were different than mine and just kept my thoughts/comments to myself I would be a lot happier was shot to hell by that statement – silence equals complicity.
My conscience won’t allow me to be complicit. I want to not only acknowledge and stand against the many injustices in this world, but I want to make a difference and do what little I can to bend the arc towards justice (even if it is just as small as writing a blog post like this one). I would never in a million years consider myself an activist. I am an introvert with a loathing toward conflict. In my mind, conflict has always been bad, but complicity is worse. So on this last day of Black History month, I vow to myself to stop being quiet and speak up against injustice of all kinds. I admit I’m afraid, but my “ignorance is bliss” or “if it doesn’t affect me directly, it doesn’t matter” mentality scares me more.