Silence Says Something

I am terribly ill-equipped to say the right thing when it comes to racial tensions, racial inequality, and racially-motivated killings in the United States. Anything I say will come up short and (as an introvert who takes quite some time to formulate words) too late for the moment it’s needed. So I’ve often opted for silent, private grieving. But silence, although comforting to introverts like me, can be experienced painfully by others.

When we are absent and silent in the face of someone else’s grieving—if we show no sadness for their loss and carry on with our lives as usual—then our grieving friend can feel that we don’t care enough that they are in pain. Even if we ourselves grieve the very same circumstances, if we do so silently and privately, our friend will not have the comfort of knowing we care or are grieving, too.

This is often what happens when we don’t see a friend in day-to-day life and all we have to gauge how each other is doing is through what we post or publicly react to online. How we react to news headlines about racial injustices (the ongoing day-to-day struggle our friends experience is a whole ‘nother thing), or whether we react at all, has an impact on all of our long-distance friends, particularly our friends of color. Silence combined with our lack of presence says to them (whether we intend it to or not), “I don’t care enough that you’re hurting, or angry, or weary of fighting this battle day after day.”

I understand that social media is a breeding ground for hateful words from all sides of an issue and that some choose to avoid that mess by reserving their social media platform for positive news and updates/pictures of their families, avoiding divisive topics like politics and race. I also understand that my friends and acquaintances whose lives are impacted every day by racial inequality would like to know that their friends are with them, even if separated by the miles, that they are not alone in their various stages of grieving.

So I’m encouraging myself to be less silent when our nation is ripped apart by someone’s racist or racially-insensitive words or behavior. I won’t presume to be a hero or offer profound insights; I just want to say to my social media friends, whether it’s through a meme, a tweet, a status update, a reaction, or a blog post, “I’m so sorry this happened” and “I’m so sorry this keeps happening.”

The words are not enough, certainly, to make the changes needed in our country. But the words (if the right ones, and if not too many) are better than the seemingly-uncaring silence. And they very well can be the first steps toward activism—trying to make things right in our country and in the world.