on silence

silence.jpg

This was inspired by Tiffany Wong, an incredible artist here in Chicago. Please click here to see all of her work.

I’ve been considering the invisible racism of my youth. The racism that covertly informed me. To be clear: Invisible and covertly are, decidedly, violently misnomered. It’s humiliatingly clear when I examine and appraise my past. It should have been unmistakable, uncoverable.

But, I believed the elected narrative. Of course, racism doesn't exist anymore. We have no issue with anyone. Of course, there is no difference between us and people of color. Of course, everyone is the same. Of course, of course, of course.

When 92.2% of the county surrounding you is the same chroma-less shade, there is rarely an opportunity to test the story. It’s easy to bury assumptions when you hardly find yourself in a position to assume. The myth of completion is simple and neat.

I remember the first time I saw It—heard It—the vile, foundationless, loud, prejudiced It. That was inside papa's 1995 Chevy Silverado c. Spring 2010. The truck was now mine. I was newly 16 and proud to own the garishly green beater. I was driving papa home. Feeling taller than I should have in my tiny Greenado. A brief silence was broken by his soft midwestern voice.

“I don’t like that.”

“What?” I scanned the road ahead, looking for something odd. Something un-christian maybe.

“Halfies. I don’t like when people mix.”

There was silence. His thin, wobbly voice began banging around in my skull. I didn’t understand what he meant. I never heard anyone speak with those terms, with that certainty. And it was papa, how could he do wrong? I didn’t say anything and the conversation changed somehow, I assume, I don’t remember. The drive ended there for me. My mind stayed at that intersection.

At this point I had no real concept of sex (you did read my age correctly), or race for that matter, I only knew it was wrong. What he said was wrong. It felt sick and I couldn’t say why.

For a good while after that, I ignored what had happened. It was an outlier, an exception, an accident. 

Then I saw It happen again and again. The gross summation of an else. Another. And I, of course, rejected it. No sir, I do not believe that for one second. There is no difference between them and I.

But there is a Second It. This is the ferocious truth that sinks its teeth deep. There is a prejudice that prefers to live along the edges. A clandestine agent equipped with one thousand explanations in case you become suspicious. 

If you wonder why you hear people talk about racial inequality the Second It will say, “Some people, not all people, of course, they just want attention.” 

If you ask It why so many of the homeless are people of color, It will sigh and say, “some people, not all people, of course, but, you know, a lot of people just don’t want to work hard.” 

If you wonder how come there are so few black people here, in our church, It hesitates for a second, and then explains, “There just aren’t that many in this area.” 

If you wonder why that should matter, It will say, “We are probably just not as exciting as black churches.”

“I’ve known some Mexicans and they’re just the nicest people, but you know, if you’re not here legally, you’ve got to face the consequences, of course.” It will say. “Of course, of course, of course.” Never considering what the consequences are. Never considering the other.

Ignorance is a god-damned paradise for one. These practices strip away the humanity of anyone who is different. Instead of immediately siding with our fellow mortals, screaming to be heard. We side with a faceless governing body. Instead of considering that no human is standing out in the cold because they have more than I do, we label them neatly as “lazy”. Instead of wondering if, perhaps, white Christians may be unable to relate to the concerns and questions of others, we are sure they’re simply different, it’s they that do not understand. And instead of caring about the families and children of our neighbors, we can only express mewling pity that they didn’t plan ahead for this.

I now know the denial of racism, the rejection of societal inequality is just as cowardly as a proud megaphonic bigot. I can only speak for myself, I can only change myself. But please know this:

I pray that we may all be aware and ashamed of any silence. I pray I will  always speak for those who can’t. I pray that any excess I receive, I give it away. I pray that I will never stay silent again in the face of chickenhearted prejudice.