The Responsibility Of Voice
For the past couple months or so, I've been working on unearthing my true voice. In the world of writers, "voice" is the name we give to the intersection of personality, study of the craft, and raw talent that is at times illusive yet always sought after by serious writers. Voice is probably the hardest thing to develop as a writer, and I presume that it is what takes up much of a writer's time, especially when a writer is new or has finally decided to take writing seriously. Discovering and harnessing my voice over these past months has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and I'm just at the beginning. I always say to myself that I have weeks, months, years to get it right. Right?
Just this past Tuesday, a man named Alton Sterling was shot while being pinned to the ground by Baton Rouge police. Then on Wednesday, Philando Castile was shot while trying to produce ID for an officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. On Thursday, five police officers were shot during a protest march in Dallas. Seven people were shot dead this week over the span of three days. Time is a luxury. Voice is a responsibility.
We have a responsibility to correct the lies that stream out from both social and mainstream media every time these events happen. We have a responsibility to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. We have a responsibility to combat the notion that Black people deserve death for petty offenses or for simply being Black. We have a responsibility to challenge the cognitive dissonance that assigns pathological stereotypes, such as "welfare queen" or "thug", to Black people as a justification of the evil that we've endured for hundreds of years. We have the responsibility to demonstrate that the power of words, of knowledge, and of faith are stronger than hate and violence.
Why People Stay Silent
Despite that responsibility, some of us stay silent. I understand the frustration and anger that many of us have with those who choose to be silent, but I have a different perspective on that silence. Voice is also a risk. We may have jobs where people in the position to hire and fire abuse that power to intimidate their employees into silence. Some of us may be isolated by those we care about because we decide to take a stand against injustice. And honestly, many of us fear losing the comfort of neutrality. One of the most selfish things a person can do is preserve his or her own comfort at the expense of other lives. You not only deny yourself the joy of authenticity, but you rob the world of a voice, maybe even THE voice that makes all the difference. Yet, this is an easy trap to fall into. I've fallen into it many times myself.
How To Move Past Fear To Speak Truth
There's a few things you can do if you're struggling with deciding to be silent or use your voice to bring about change.
- Think about the alternative that will happen if you don't speak. Silence is often assumed to be compliance. Are you OK with all the death, the hashtags, the anger, and constantly being told that none of that matters? Then speak out and combat that narrative.
- Do your research and do the work. So many people are casually throwing out statistics that they don't understand and stereotypes that have long been debunked. When you do the work and the work is thorough, mouths get shut and lies get shut down.
- Surround yourself with support and practice self-care. Authenticity can take a toll on you. We live in a society that is in many ways intellectually weak. Many people can't handle the fact that others may disagree with them usually because they aren't that sure of the stance they are taking since they haven't done the research or the work. When these types of people start to wear on you, make sure you have people around you who support what you are doing and keep you encouraged.
- Expect confrontation. This is one that I struggle with. Truth speaking and authenticity are troll magnets. Expect them, block them, delete them, and refer to tip #2.
Voice is what our ancestors fought and died for, and we have inherited that sacred responsibility.