Until now, I have not written during times of crisis, tragedy, mourning, devastation. Not once. I have not shared links. I have not changed my Facebook profile image. I have not and, after today, I will not. The simple matter is, it is not my place.
Like many in the United States, I have grown up with privilege – much more privilege than many others. I was lucky enough to be raised in kindness. And, while Jewish, I was lucky enough to spared from much of the anti-Semitic attacks other Jews in this world face. The prevalence of violence across our country has become an abysmal reality. Attacks such as massacre in Orlando (or the Charleston church mass shooting last year) are hate crimes. They are deliberate acts carried out to destroy and silence communities.
In the wake of these tragedies, it is my job to listen. As an ally, it is my job to strive even harder to be compassionate and supportive to the LGBTQIA community. As a feminist, it is my job to approach misogyny with an intersectional perspective and to acknowledge that the struggles women and other non-hetero, non-cis individuals are subject to may not be the same as my own; that as a white, hetero, cis female I am allowed many privileges that are denied to them. As a white person, it is my job to actively work to dismantle the systemic racism faced by all minorities in this country, and across the world. As a working/middle class individual, it is my job to understand challenges, fears, and subjugation of poverty and find the ways that I (despite my own precarious finances) can ease the suffering of others. As an able-bodied individual, it is my job to respect the intellect and integrity of disabled individuals and treat them with the same courtesy I would treat anyone else. And, as an anthropologist, it is my job to approach all peoples with kindness and consideration, as well as to not force my personal beliefs and truths on others – and to remember that at the heart of the ethnographic lens and participant-observation is permission.
I say these things not to those who are now suffering or who have suffered; my words are for the majority. For those, like me, who do not live in a world where every day is dangerous, where fear of retribution for simply having an identity is a reality. My job is to speak to them, to share my lessons learned, and not to speak to you who have suffered so much and so unfairly. I am not here to lecture you, nor to interpret your lived experiences for you. That is not my job, and that will never be my job.
My job, and the job of others like me, is to listen to what you have to say. To not interrupt. To not negate. To not co-opt your pain or your truth.
My job is to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy – to recognize where the two overlap and where they do not.
My job is to act for a better future in ways that make real differences, not to hide behind performative actions. To advocate for all human rights, as well as for laws that will secure those rights, protect peoples of all backgrounds, and to properly address, condemn, and punish perpetrators. My job is to vote for representatives who will enact and maintain these laws, as well as to hold accountable public officials who do not. My job is to donate my time and resources as I am able, to not shy away from the collective responsibility for our nation’s inaction. My job is to speak up when I see injustice, to not allow fear or apathy blind me. My job is to remember those who have been harmed, the atrocities carried out, and to seek ways to prevent historical repetition. To ask permission rather than assume. To be cognizant of my words and the unconscious xenophobic, disablist, racist, misogynistic terms embedded in our cultural vocabulary.
And so, when I say I will not speak again during times like these, I am not saying I will turn away. I am saying that I am here, that I will listen, that I will recognize that there is a time and place for me to contribute, and that I will not back away from the uncomfortable truth of our current cultural narrative. In my silence while you speak, I am promising to act. My silence after today is a promise that I will hear your needs and respect your requests. I promise to commit myself to you, your community, and your future, to ask and not presume.
I promise to endeavor every day to be a better ally.
Extended reading is available in the follow-up post, Listen and Hear the Truths.