Dismissing My Black Voice is Rubber Stamping Racism
If they can’t oppress me physically, they try to oppress me systemically.
That’s not a chip on my shoulder. That’s your foot on my back. — Malcolm X
I was once told, “it’s all in my head” — a reaction to my thoughts on racism in America, more specifically, my Black experience in a country that has a history of peddling white supremacy. This wasn’t my first time hearing this dismissal nor would it be the last. As the years wore on the racial disparities became increasingly clear to me whenever a conversation would germinate, especially in “mixed company.”
If you are Black, you would undoubtedly have to field such a comment.
The context of this exchange was race (as is often the case between a Black person and a white person). My position reflected my being Black in a white society. It should only make sense that my opinions come from personal experiences rather than from trying to convince others based on an agenda.
Initially, this ill-conceived choice of words fell short of offending my good sense. My thinking at the time was confusion, bewilderment. WTF? After all, it was my opinion that was being exposed out there in the open — my truth. How could anybody know what’s inside your head, unless you invite them in? As I began to ponder those callous words that hung over me, I was reminded of how many in the Black community have historically been put in a place of silence for not aligning with their audience.
What was particularly troubling about this response was how freely it came at me as a counter to my social position. A dismissive take on what was important to me — a Black person — and the feelings I expressed. Normally I would have been less concerned about such a rebuff, had these words been spoken by someone who shared my love for melanin. However, having experienced similar microaggressions by those of “fairer skin,” I began to see the pattern.
You can’t please everybody, so you might as well just speak the truth. That’s all your job is: to speak the truth. If nothing else because at least you know that you were authentic to yourself, and at the end of the day you have to basically answer to yourself, not anybody else. — Luvvie Ajayi
Why was that comment used to undermine my perspective, to dismiss my position? Perhaps there is a historical significance at play here, or more likely, the speaker was misinformed and unaware of the world around them. As we dug deeper into the perplexing milieu of discussion, another gem came rolling off their tongue: “you have a chip on your shoulder.” Possibly, in an effort to double down, or further solidify their tone-deafness… this blatant obliviousness continued to puzzle me.
It can be a challenge engaging with people who fundamentally disagree with you or whose beliefs are stunted by misinformation, hatred, or both. All you can do is speak your truth and express yourself with authenticity hoping for a response offered with respect.
Either you’re with me or against me
Today the silencing of Black voices comes in many forms, yet the motive remains the same. Rachel Elizabeth Cargle discusses how those who benefit from systems of control have a difficult time letting go of their privilege and accepting the truth. It is because of these false securities that aggressively deepen the inequality in our country and silence voices of truth. This is the standard that many cling to.
Often we hear that racism in America is a fictitious construct, fabricated to enact hypersensitive emotion in an effort to gain victimhood. This nonsensical way of thinking is yet another example of oppression. By silencing one’s voice, you are sweeping an opposing viewpoint under the rug with the objective of making it disappear. How can an argument be justified when disregarding someone’s personal experiences, rejecting their struggle, and dismissing their voice. This is illogical.
If the tables were turned, I’m sure there would be a more visceral response and an outcry for justice. Therein lies the hypocrisy we see every day in this country regarding censure.
This all goes with the narrative that when the Black community speaks up and demands equal rights, there will always be an opposing faction seeking to put an end to any advancement perceived to be a threat — be it out of fear or some distorted idea of losing power.
Throughout American history, an uncomfortable majority suppressing the voices of marginalized minority groups has painted an authoritarian landscape wrought with systemic injustice. Such a system is alive and in practice to this day.
The civil rights movement of the ’60s is an example of a time when heightened fear by the white community concerned about a Black uprising, fueled a desire to quell any and all progress toward racial equality. But just as past generations are a marker of despicable and historic oppression this can be said of the injustices that have shackled the Black community since the days of slavery.
Shut up and dribble
You might recall a viral moment a couple of years ago when LeBron James was told to “Shut up and dribble.” This was in response to him using his platform to speak out about the injustices the Black community endures. Not surprisingly this ignited a national debate. Why should he be silenced — because of his celebrity, his color, or because he is a citizen voicing his opinions on the inequity we in the Black community face in America? Being told to shut up is dismissing one’s voice, one’s power, one’s independence, one’s rights.
How can you love what I do but hate who I am. — Eric Gales, guitarist
Everyone has a right to express themselves, be it through their art, their platform, or their voice. Just having status, fame, or profession, does not mean principles and views should be checked at the door. I would argue that if someone has a platform that they could use to benefit others, help a cause by creating effective change, they should be empowered to do so, and be supported. Those of us not fortunate enough to have such a platform or vehicle for change still have a voice and we should use it.
Just as LeBron refused to be silenced, so should the many of us who have been told to stay in the background and keep quiet.
Let’s face it, those who are quick to shut down the opinions of others do so out of discomfort with a viewpoint that challenges their own. It’s difficult for some to hear a position that differs from what makes them feel comfortable.
Silenced but remembered, and soon… respected
There have been many occasions when my voice was stifled due to being a thorn in the side of those around me wanting nothing to do with a position of challenge. That my opinion isn’t worthy of acknowledgment or suggesting I am too sensitive about a subject — this in itself is dismissive.
Silencing happens when, for white people, hearing the truth is too much. — Rachel Elizabeth Cargle
An often-practiced method of trying to control one’s voice is through intimidation. Though there is a deep history in America of intimidating minority groups, we saw this transparent behavior carried out during the recent election by those trying to suppress Black voters.
Exercising one’s right to vote has never been so crucial as it was this past election season especially for many in disenfranchised communities that typically were, not surprisingly, met with coercion, and sometimes violence.
When a voice gets louder, fear grows stronger.
How often is the Black community put in situations where they are silenced or made to feel as though their opinions are worthless — that what they are feeling has no value and can so easily be discredited.
Keep your eyes on the prize
The feeling of being minimized is essentially akin to having your independence taken away. We as the Black community must never take our foot off the gas. Our lives depend on our unwavering strength and we must never allow oppression in any form to dictate our existence.
The days of Jim Crow are over. Or are they?
This should come as no shock but no one ever wants to be silenced. It’s human nature to express oneself, to use your voice. Added to this an intentional oppressive act of shutting down someone of a different race, either systemically, emotionally, or of course violently, just for expressing an opposing view, the seemingly never-ending pursuit of equality cannot be fulfilled.
Stop explaining away someone else’s experiences — dismissing their truths. You may have another point of view, and that is fine, this is your right. Your rejection of others’ perspectives (and truths) however is perpetuating a history of repression.
Being uncomfortable can be dangerous or even lethal to those who speak out in opposition to a viewpoint. This should never dissuade you, however — your truth is who you are and you have a right to be heard.
Thank you for reading!