The Powerlessness of Not Having a Voice

My son almost ran in the road, and I had no voice with which to stop him. My story is a literal one, but the analogies I take from it are numerous.

My sons were playing outside on a mild January day. I was sick that day, lying in bed, feeling guilty for being sick. (Ah, the perks of motherhood!) I had lost my voice, and my children had been uncharacteristically alarmed by my baritone squawking that morning. My husband kindly bundled them up and took them outside with him while he was working in the garage.

wp-1486487754623.jpgThis is my view from my sick bed. The boys were throwing sticks down that embankment. Yes, it leads to the road, and yes, I briefly wondered if they were going to hit any cars with that stick-throwing. My boys know not to go down the embankment, into the ditch, or into the road. However, Twin B is quite … forgetful. Suddenly, I saw Twin B follow a thrown stick and run down the embankment and out of sight. I raced to the window and threw it open, knowing full well I had no time to run to downstairs and to the door. I had no idea if my husband had seen Twin B, and I had no time to wonder. My body completely forgot about being sick as the momma adrenaline kicked in. As I slammed open the window and leaned out, I screamed, “STOP!”

Only nothing came out.

No sound. No voice. No nothing. Having forgotten I was sick, my surprise turned quickly to terror. My son was probably running into the road and I was completely powerless. I had no voice. At all. There was nothing I could do quickly enough. Panic.

Our dog is deaf, but she can hear loud clapping. So, thinking quickly, treating my children like dogs, I leaned out the window as far as I could and clapped as loudly as I could. My hands stung. My heart was on fire, too. Where was he? Would he hear me?

Once in a while, having twins is wonderful: Twin A, an obedient, empathic brother’s keeper, heard my frantic claps, looked up at the window, yelled, “What, Momma?” I pointed to the road with crazy gesturing. Bless his little four-year-old heart: he understood. He retrieved his twin. As soon as I saw them both come back up over the embankment, I raced down the stairs to yell at Twin B with my non-voice. They were fine.

Later, during a quiet moment (probably after they were in bed, because that is the only quiet), I reflected on that feeling of pure terror I had when I realized I had no voice with which I could protect my child. The fear. The helplessness. We often hear versions of the phase “they have no voice” when reading about oppressed groups of people. It made me ponder many of my favorite quotes with a new understanding.

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“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” –Frederick Douglass

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond Tutu

“White silence is violence” – my protest sign

“Hear Our Voice” –an official logo of the Women’s March

wp-1489081101207.jpgThat is why Black Lives Matter. That is why refugees matter. That is why Muslims matter. None of these groups of people have the same voice that I do. I am a middle-class white blonde American woman. Simply being born that way is privilege. I truly believe I am obligated to use that privilege to help others. I am obligated to use my voice for others who have no voice. Staying quiet is no longer an option. Change will not happen if we don’t speak up. Literally. Speak. I never want any mother to feel powerless to help her child.

 

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“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in, Naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:35-40

What Happened When I Made “Black Lives Matter” My Profile Picture the Day After the Election?

meme4I lost friends. That’s what happened.

Two hundred comments in 24 hours. That’s what happened.

I made people very, very angry. That’s what happened.

All because of a simple black meme with three powerful white words on it: Black Lives Matter.

You know what else that profile picture did? It defended my Black son. And it defended every other person made to feel an “other”. I took a stand. I silently protested against the election of a deplorable man. I faced off against people who don’t agree with me, and I didn’t back down. I turned my back on the dirty parts of my Southern heritage. I let go of people who shouldn’t be around my son anymore. I sifted the wheat from chaff.

Did I do it on purpose? Yes. Did I know what would happen? Yes.

I have friends who, right after I did, also changed their profile picture to that same exact black meme with three words on it: Black Lives Matter. Do you know what happened to them? Nothing. Not a thing. Not a single comment. What does that mean? What does that say? Maybe it says that my friends list needs weeding. Sifting. Maybe it says that I live in the South and they don’t. Maybe it says that I have more right-wing conservatives on my list. Or maybe it says that I have extremely vocal acquaintances (not sure “Friends” is the right word anymore) who aren’t afraid to yell at me – in all caps. If I dig really, really deep and try to be optimistic, maybe it means that I have some friends who are also willing to engage with me and ask questions.

Yes, that’s true. I did spark lots of discussion – some of which was even productive. I had people who asked questions, who genuinely were seeking to learn and do better. There were people who thanked me for helping them process some stuff. I didn’t change everyone’s mind. I don’t know if I changed *anyone’s* mind. But I made some people think, and allowed them a space to do so in depth.

The best part? I had people rising to defend me. There were six types of responses to my photo:

  • The silent “like”
  • The scream-at-me-in-all-caps-and-then-disappear
  • The I-disagree-and-I-will-keep-disagreeing-with-you-and-never-hear-a-word-you-say
  • The I-disagree-and-here’s-why-and-what-do-you-think
  • The please-explain-why-and-where-can-I-learn-more
  • The Defenders

Some defended me eloquently. Some defended me with (sometimes justified) cursing and name-calling. Some defended me eloquently until they bloodied their knuckles against walls of ignorance and then defended me with cursing. (By the way, “FFS” is my favorite new curse word acronym for extreme frustration.) Not gonna lie: it felt really freakin’ good to have people have my back like that.

I take that back – they weren’t defending *me*. They were defending MY CHILD. They were defending all People of Color. They were defending the Black Lives Matter movement. They were defending everyone who has been silenced and discriminated against and made to feel fear at the outcome of this election. (Okay, there was one friend who was actually defending ME. She said something like, “Melissa is too nice to cuss you out, so I’m going to do it for her.” HA!)

I’m an introvert. I can be a shrinking violet at times – but not when it comes to my kids. Like any mother, I will morph into Mama Bear in milliseconds when the need arises. I’ll cut you. Watch me. Electing a man who has emboldened people to use the n-word with glee, scream at minorities, make children fear that their undocumented parents won’t be there when they get home, grab women, taunt the handicapped, graffiti cars and homes and lockers with swastikas and epithets, cause people to hide their sexuality again,  and cause women to take off their hijabs for the first time…. Well, that is not acceptable. My child is one of those. And this is one pissed-off mother.

If you don’t agree with me that Black Lives Matter, we have a problem. If you are willing to talk to me, ask questions, message me privately, read an article I send you, explain your side calmly and then ask me to explain mine…. Well, then, there is hope for us. If you refuse to do any of those things, I have swiftly realized that you are not allowed around my son.

I need to be more careful. We do not feel safe.

Change starts with me. My first change is tightening my circle of friends.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

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But, yeah, also, 200 comments in 24 hours? I didn’t get nearly that many when we adopted a surprise baby with no notice after six years. I also didn’t get that many comments when I died and came back to life during the dramatic childbirth of my twins. Pfffft.