At an early age I learned that one can enjoy a nice quiet and peaceful life by being quiet and peaceful. “Don’t rock the boat.” “Don’t stand out.” “Ignorance is bliss.”
There’s a lot of comfort in silence.
There’s also a lot of privilege in it. Privilege is insidious. It’s silent. It is an absence of consequence, which rings loudly to those without it.
It’s like having a giant nose. You have become so used to it, the fact it could even partially obscure your vision, you adapt. It becomes invisible to you. Yet everyone around you sees it clearly.
If my skin were a different color, there’s very little I could do in order to enjoy my quiet and peaceful life. I’ve learned, by listening, that when your skin is a different color, you have to behave differently if you are to have any hope to have a quiet and peaceful life. You have to speak to people differently. You have to avoid being assertive. You have to become someone you aren’t.
When I start to come out of the quiet, standing out and taking risks; like starting a business, hiring people, speaking to others, I also enjoy that insidious privilege. If my business fails, the chances of being employed again are far better than if I didn’t have white skin. Starting a business – I risked some convenience. I risked some income. I risked having to go on the job market for a couple months. I didn’t risk my life.
Coming to terms with this privilege has taken a long time for me. Not because I was unaware of the threats to those with a different skin color, I’ve always been keenly aware of the fact that many of my friends and colleagues are under threat every minute of every day. What I wasn’t aware of is how my silence and avoidance of risk of being misunderstood, ostracized, and excluded or avoided because of what I might speak about. When I share my true feelings and express the results of my self-exploration, I will undoubtedly take on more risk.
Life, my friends, is risk. To live, to truly live a full life, we must take risks. I want nothing more than to life a full life and I want that for my fellow human beings. I have tremendous confidence in my fellow human beings. Even those who lead a life which degrades and hates, because as long as they draw breath, they can change. Everyone must have a chance to life a full life, learning and growing.
The biggest changes we can make in this life are by living, learning, and loving. We must risk these things to truly grow. This is what I’m doing now. I’m going to risk as much as I can so I can live and not hide behind silence. I’ll probably make some mistakes – I’ve gotten really good at being quiet and allowing others to assume who I am and what my values are. Sometimes that’s a lot easier than clumsily explaining them.
No more. My values are going to start being expressed. I’m going to publicly react and give my voice in support of human beings, and against those who would take rights, opportunity, and most importantly, lives of others. I’m going to listen, and pay careful attention to what I read and see. There’s another side to every story and I hope to continue learning from others until my last days.
I hope this inspires you to live a full life, not hide, seek knowledge, and act.