In the wake of the recent event that took place in North Portland, the discussion regarding white liberalism and racism has grown louder. Three white men were stabbed, two fatally wounded, on a MAX train while defending two young women of color who were being verbally attacked by a known white supremacist. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best stood up against racism and fascism, and tragically lost their lives. While they and the young man who survived, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, have been declared heroes, many have questioned how “safe” it is to try to defend vulnerable communities, such as people of color.
I immediately found this troubling when I saw an article come across my Twitter feed, claiming it was unsafe to do what Meche, Best, and Fletcher did. I’ve heard numerous discouragements from “getting involved” in situations that have the potential to become dangerous, but at the time I didn’t quite latch onto the fact that silence was simultaneously being encouraged. Even in passive situations, people are often discouraged from pushing back against problematic rhetoric or talking about politics all together: “Is it worth it to start this argument?” you may be asked if you try to say something when that one family member decides to drop the n-word or makes derogatory comments about women at the reunion. There is a constant pressure to avoid conflict, which usually results in allowing racism, sexism, etc. to continue. It is beneficial to no one — aside from white supremacy — to sit back and watch racism flourish right in front of you.
It is important to consider your safety and possible consequences, of course, as you gauge the severity of a situation. You should understand exactly what you may be risking when involving yourself in social justice, and in what capacity you are able to act. For instance, if I attend a protest, I understand that there is a possibility of being arrested, or hurt by police, or just another civilian. When I engage in political discussions with right-leaning friends or family I understand that the outcome may be emotional trauma or the loss of a relationship. I have seen and experienced the consequences of getting involved and doing the right thing, and have decided that in certain situations, I am okay with those consequences. Others have done the same in order to defend me in the past.
Lately, the discussion regarding whether or not to stand up for what’s right appears to promote silence and complacency among privileged groups. People who lose their lives standing up to white supremacists are labeled heroes while those who escape unscathed are greeted with disdain. Then, the media has the audacity to discourage people from getting involved in these situations for their safety. So, we honor those who put their bodies on the line by thanking them then telling others to not do the same, or criticizing them for confronting violent views (and surviving). What better way to promote fear of taking a stand against racism and subsequently...silence? And all with little, to no, consideration for those hurt in the first place — such as the girls on the train.
Minorities from various communities are forced to put our lives on the line daily, simply because we exist. The two young women of color (at least one being Muslim as well) who were verbally attacked on that MAX were doing nothing wrong. The only reason Jeremy Christian sought to harm them was because they were minorities. Even those who assimilate in an attempt to gain some sense of security and belonging are never truly safe. People of color will always be seen and treated as “others” by the majority.
Whether you realize it or not, silence contributes to the violence minorities experience. It certainly does not help us, but it does permit the actions to continue. It sends a message to everyone around you that you are okay with what is happening — or too scared to challenge it. Either way, those holding these harmful beliefs and committing acts of violence are emboldened. Why wouldn’t they be when the “leadership” of the country encourages them and few dare to stop them? Minorities fight for our rights every day; we have been discussing, challenging, etc. for years. Those from the majority, from privileged positions must be willing to do their part if they do really believe equality and equity.
As a form of prejudice and systemic or institutional oppression, “racism is a white problem.” Because of this, white people must also take part in taking apart the system that works to keep people of color in a second-class citizenship status. Standing in solidarity will never be enough. There must be proactive and reactionary actions to injustices.
A part of dismantling an oppressive system challenging it whenever possible. This doesn’t mean everyone must always be willing to engage in discourse with anyone who disagrees with you. There are situations where it will be nothing but a fruitless debate, but you can still let it be known where you stand. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to avoid politics and discourse when it is convenient to us. Our existences are politicized on every front and we live in a society that makes it difficult to voice our grievances. It’s important for those with privileges to speak up, whether it’s to push back against an offensive remark, defend a minority being harassed, or just begin a conversation with other privileged folks where you can elevate the voices of marginalized groups (It should always be to elevate the voices of minorities). Don’t allow for it to continue in front of you.
Yes, it can be risky and dangerous to fight facism, but aren't the consequences of allowing it to grow far worse? If you truly believe in bringing an end to racial inequality and inequity, you must be willing to take action in whichever ways you can. Inaction will only assist oppressors and their agendas. Silence is akin to and often the same as indifference, and indifference to violence is killing us too.