Breaking the Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the worst things about coming home is seeing and hearing just how ignorant the people around me are when it comes to offensive and prejudiced language. Since coming home on Friday, I think I’ve heard at least a dozen racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist comments made in regular conversation.

These aren’t blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist people either. These are my friends and loved ones — people who are incredibly intelligent, loving, and compassionate. That’s why it saddens me so deeply to hear offensive language, stereotypes, and slurs being tossed around with no regard for people’s feelings or well-being. These people have the capacity to speak without offending. I don’t understand why, in the grand catalog of humor, someone would need to stoop so low to make jokes that target, objectify, and ridicule an entire group of people. They should know better…

Being basically the only minority I know in my group of friends (and the only semi-liberal queer feminist in my family), the burden kind of falls on me to speak up. Not saying it should be that way, but that’s how it always seems to end up, isn’t it? Naturally, I’m forced to be the representative of every oppressed, targeted, marginalized social group ever. I’m getting a pretty good idea of how Atlas felt. But, if I don’t do anything about what’s happening, nobody will. Everyone around me is completely content with the current social standards (though, I’d assume that this is the default setting for those in the favored majority).

It looks like I have plenty of work to do as a bystander. It might not make me many friends, but I’m through giving others my silent consent. In the past, my speaking out against offensive language with my friends and family has resulted in people resenting me, so I’m expecting the same kind of backlash moving forward. Around here, people treat “political correctness” like a dirty word. That mentality is part of the problem and really stunts my efforts to affect change where I live (it was much easier back in Portland, OR). People hear one word about social change and they just start to tune you out. It’s a good thing I have the rare gift of persistence.

If people really want to shoot the messenger, I don’t mind biting the bullet. What’s important to me is that people begin to think critically about what they say and how it affects the people around them. People have gotten way too comfortable using offensive language around me and I’m done sitting silently while they make my skin crawl and my ears burn. It’s time we started holding each other accountable for our words and actions. And that’s precisely what I’m going to start doing.

Prepare yourself, Utah. I’m comin’ for ya.

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