A Letter for the Silent

Photo Credit: Getty Images / John Lamparski

Dear those who remain quiet…

When the protests first began, I respected your choice of silence. I understand that this situation is surrounded by controversy and complications that are difficult to understand. There are so many layers of injustices following a storyline of devastating events, each of which is connected and intertwined. Why speak out and expose your beliefs to your followers, job recruiters, and family members who might not share the same values as you? Why participate in a movement defending the stolen lives of others unrelated to yours? But now I question myself in choosing to accept your silence with my own.

Silence, as you have found, is the perfect medium that allows you to remain in the safety net of comfort but also establishes you in neutral territory. By remaining silent you seek to lose nothing amongst the controversy and will not be caught in the crossfires of either side. You choose to remain silent so you cannot be confronted, and I refuse to accept this.

As a young Asian-Canadian student I am no activist. I have not taken a single humanities/sociology course, and the majority of my knowledge about today’s political climate stems from my social media news feed (and my parents’ Wechat/Whatsapp community messages). I am not black, and therefore I cannot speak on behalf of the African Americans in my community and to their experiences in today’s world. However, I can say that as an immigrant growing up in a Western society, I have been shown time and time again the power of privilege. I acknowledge that I am privileged, and that my “model minority” and socioeconomic status allows me to live a life free of the fears that many of my African Americans peers would face. The day after George Floyd was killed, my mother told me nonchalantly “just stay out of trouble and be respectful to cops”. Later that same day, I saw a video of a black man teaching his son how to survive a choke hold in case he was ever held captive by the police.

People like Philando Castelle, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are just three victims in an endless list of innocent deaths caused by police brutality and racism. Proportionally, black people are much more likely to be shot and killed by cops, with the rate at which black Americans are killed by police is twice as high as the rate for white Americans. But yet, I am not afraid of cops. I do not fear for my life when I leave my house. And that on its own is exactly why you and I cannot stay silent.

Saying “I have no idea what’s going on” is not an excuse.

We live in a world with internet and social media platforms. You are one Google search away from understanding the situation and deciding for yourselves how you are going to perceive each news article, story, and video. With numerous people hopping on bandwagon “chain hashtags”, showing their support on their media feeds and stories, there is an abundance of resources available at your fingertips to provide you new information, refreshed by the minute. This is just a matter of your own initiative. It is your responsibility as a young North American to stay updated on what is happening in the world today.

Saying “I don’t want to stir political controversy” is not an excuse.

You don’t have to support this movement from a political standpoint. Expressing your solidarity in support for the lives of others who do not share your privilege has absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with simply being human. If public disagreement and confrontation is not your cup of tea, then you can also actively support this movement with donations to organizations that support the wellbeing of black lives and signatures to petitions. You can post links and share written articles on your social media feed. You can speak up about this issue to friends and family members, to further raise awareness for the fight towards equality.

I also want to take this time to acknowledge that many of my non-black POC peers come from traditional, conservative households. Opening up and having this conversation with family may incite feelings of discomfort and expose the anti-blackness prevalent in many cultures. If you are in this boat, all I can say is that the only way change can occur in our future generations is if it begins with us. We were not raised in the same way as our parents, and have experienced first handedly the privileges of receiving education and upbringing in a setting that embraces diversity. The journey to destroy the internalized racism that runs rampant in our family’s past starts with the conversations that can be held in the present.

Photo credit: Flickr / Marcela McGreal

For my Asian American friends, here are some great articles that further explains how our people can help support our black communities:

Saying “this has nothing to do about me” is not an excuse.

This is not supposed to be about you. This is about the lives and wellbeing of thousands of African Americans who make up a significant portion of the culture we live in today. This is about the systematic racism that oppresses black lives in America — leading to a plethora of injustices that plague black communities and strips them of their rights as citizens.

I hold all of my peers to this fact: black culture has been prominent in each and every single one of our lives. If you can look up to black athletes, sing along to rap lyrics, dance to moves influenced by African culture, worship celebrities of African American descent, admire the trends set by black influencers and even use their slang with no remorse (non-black sayers of the n-word, this is for you) then you have every reason to stand up and fight alongside their cause.

I also want to address this point to my fellow Canadians: you are wrong to deny that the problems surrounding American racism and police brutality are not relevant in Canada. Institutionalized racism is not an “American” problem. It is prevalent in all Westernized societies.

Saying “voicing my opinions publicly/on social media won’t change anything” is not an excuse.

In our anti-bullying assemblies back in elementary school, every single one of us has been shown this simple popsicle stick analogy about the strength in numbers: splitting a single popsicle stick in half is easy, but breaking apart an entire bunch? Not so much. I know that my words and actions alone won’t solve racism, police brutality or change the hearts of white supremacists. However, I hope that I can use my platform, as small as it may be, to educate others, and pray that my listeners/readers will use their words to influence the minds of even more. Eventually, a ripple effect will occur. Social media is a platform that unites our words in a time of separation. Our posts and stories are not going unnoticed. Individually, your actions may not elicit a massive change needed by the world, but our coordinated actions together is what pushes the Black Lives Matter movement forward.

Saying “I’m not comfortable with this topic” is not an excuse.

I agree with you. You should not be comfortable with this at all. The grim reality is that institutionalized racism exists — and causes great damage to those it intends to oppress. To quote a fellow peer of mine: “it is a luxury that you can turn away from conversations around the oppression of black lives”. By choosing to ignore this issue, your apathy is acting in favour of the parties seeking to silence black voices.

Once again, I am no activist, economist, politician or doctor. But below are a couple of references that better explain some of the problematic disparities faced by marginalized black communities. This is not a topic to be “comfortable” about.

Saying “I don’t support this movement because I don’t support violent protests” is not an excuse.

To be frank, this is a grey area of opinion for me. All I can say is that as an Asian American woman, I will never have to fear my life when confronted by the authorities. I have never experienced injustice by the people who enforce the law, and thanks to my privilege, I never will. This is why I, along with those who share this privilege, shouldn’t be the judge of what’s “right” or “wrong” when it comes to protesting the system that does not oppress us.

A video posted by activist and Daily Show Host Trevor Noah better encapsulates my point. I also want to put a related quote regarding this topic, sent to me by a friend, below:

We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” — Malcolm X.”

I write this article with anger and frustration in seeing the complacency of my peers who have not spoken out. Who choose to remain blissfully unaware of the events unfolding on our streets. As spoken by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”.

If you can spend 15 minutes a day looking at Tik Tok dance trends, you can spend 15 minutes to Google what is happening. If you have $15 to spend on your daily UberEats order, you can spend $15 donating to a charitable cause that supports our black community. If you are a student receiving CESB or working a co-op job/internship, I am begging you to please put your available finances to good use. We live in North America alongside hundreds of different races, cultures and ethnicities. You have zero excuse to remain silent and do nothing for our African American brothers and sisters. It is never too late to educate yourself, speak out, donate, and join the fight in ending the systematic oppression that should not have existed in the first place.

It’s time to get on the right side of history. Do not stay silent.

A special thanks goes to Meena Waseem and Fuad Ali for providing the relevant quotes and resources mentioned in this article. For more ways to help support the #BLM movement, click here.




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Sheena Ye

Sheena Ye

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