At the heart of today's America, it seems imperative that we have a thorough understanding of the foundation of this country. Social, economic, and political progress has been built upon one thing: civil disobedience. The power of fearlessness and passion is unmatched in a world where power imbalance continues to be a monumental factor in our society. Erik Killmonger understood what it meant to be a man that acts.
On the surface, he was just the main antagonist of "Black Panther," but as I sat in the theater, I recognized that art truly does imitate life. To me, Killmonger resembled Malcolm X with his extremist mentality but unfaltering sense of purpose. He demanded that Wakanda, and the African country of great wealth, use their resources to provide aid to black people that face deadly oppression throughout the world, particularly America. Although his means of getting what he wanted were abrasive and he suffered a tragic demise, his voice was heard, and change manifested from his persistence.
In this world, we champion silence and denounce those who refuse to be muffled. I can vouch for that. In the third grade, I was a tattle-tale; if anyone said either of the "s-words," (stupid or shut up), Mrs. McCallister would be notified pronto. There's this rule that every teacher embeds into your head: "Hold your questions because I might end up answering them when I give the instructions." Despite this, there always seems to be at least one kid that doesn't understand this concept, and unfortunately for them, if I'm around, I'll be the first person to inform them of their infraction. For me, that kid was...let's call him D. He would purposely raise his hand in the middle of a lecture and ask a dumb question that pertained to what the teacher had just said seconds before.
To say the least, it irritated me. To say the most, I wanted to rip his head off.
In my mind, his behavior was detrimental to everyone else's learning environment, and as no one spoke up to correct his actions, it just made him think it was okay. I refused to stay silent. I defended my teacher, and although D kept quiet for quite some time, it seemed as though D, the class, and even Mrs. McCallister were upset that I had said anything at all. I didn't understand why I was being ostracized for speaking up, but now that I'm much older, I notice this reluctance to speak our minds freely has become a trend among people of many lifestyles. That should be a concern. If our society continues to have a disinclination to speaking up, we'll miss out on so many instances where our voice could have made a great impact. It's just as activist and founder of the Grey Panthers, Maggie Kuhn expressed about segregation: "Speak your mind even if your voice shakes."
The Paris attacks were my first primary introduction to the world of Islamophobia, and consequently, my perspective on selfishness broadened in a way that I could not have anticipated. We are self-centered. We are malicious. We lack empathy. I only had one Muslim friend at the time, and on the Monday after the 2016 terrorist attack in Paris, she was asked by a white boy at our lunch table why "Muslims are always blowing things up." I recognized his patronizing tone and waited for one of my other friends to say something.
Of course, with everyone at the table (except for the boy) being a minority, I figured there would be a collective outrage. But his comment was only met with silence and a few uncomfortable laughs. Needless to say, my blood was boiling. In the midst of my anger, I started a full-blown argument with the insensitive racist among us, but the silence of my friends on that day still bothers me to wits-end.
Minorities cannot afford to be selfish. We are not able-bodied, straight, Christian white men. Hispanic women should care about the issues of those who are disabled. Black men should care about the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Muslim-Americans should care about how Native Americans are treated. By "care," I mean "defend." Our voice is irrefutably our most powerful weapon. The power of the mind is overestimated; if the ideas and opinions of forward-thinking individuals are confined in the small space between their ears, what good can they do? So many of us find comfort in our silence, but we have a unique duty to bring change even when we feel that change won't affect us.
Imagine if every minority (including white women) had a sense of passion for all other minorities. We'd suddenly be the majority. Our attempt to avoid conflict only allows those with the institutionalized power to continue to wreak havoc. Cultural appropriation, intersectional feminism, and institutionalized racism are only a fraction of the concepts that have been widely discussed on platforms like Twitter and Tumblr. As a teen with access to all the knowledge the world has to offer, creating change has become an idea that no longer sounds bizarre.
I understand the power of silence in an outspoken world, however, it is our responsibility to distinguish between the times to be silent and the times to speak up when things continue to be left unsaid. There will always be D's doubting our opinions, and we may not always inspire a room full of students. But imagine living in a world where Martin Luther King Jr., and Malala Yousafzai and even Emma Gonzalez chose to turn the other cheek. We have as much power as we choose to give ourselves. Class dismissed.