Back in the 1980s, the AIDS activism movement had a saying: Silence = Death. Perhaps nothing exemplified that more than Reagan’s infamous silence on the issue of the disease that was wiping out a generation of gay men in America.
Or maybe that was the reason for the slogan. The most powerful man in the world was silent when he could have said the word and launched a research initiative that might have sped the path to a cure.
Goddam straight, white, old guys staying silent while the rest of us suffer.
Anyway, this is not a post about AIDS. This is a riff on what I wrote yesterday about the huddled mass of quivering lackeys in the White House who won’t stand up to their misogynist boss when he’s being wildly misogynist right in their faces. That whole thing is stuck my craw, not because it’s happening in the White House but because I know in my cold, dead heart that it’s happening everywhere.
You can find a million article about how a key aspect of allyship is how you act in spaces where those you claim to be allies to are absent. Do you stand up for the marginalized only when they are there to see it? If so, you’re not being a good enough ally. You have to remember people even when they aren’t there.
The White House staff who mumble about how uncomfortable Trump’s misogyny makes them are no different than generations of guys who guffaw heartily at rape jokes and racist jokes and tiresome old homophobic tropes even when they ostensibly know better. But laughing, even fake laughing, isn’t evidence that you know better, folks. It’s complicity with the motherfucking patriarchy.
Yes, that’s right. If you chuckle when your boss or your buddy makes a joke at some marginalized groups’ expense, you are just as bad as he is. (Or she but probably he.)
You don’t get to laugh. You don’t get to smile. Maybe you can sit stony-faced in obvious disapproval but even that might not get the message across. The correct response to any sort of language or action that demeans others is to say something.
I repeat: YOU. MUST. SAY. SOMETHING.
I know. It’s uncomfortable and it makes you less popular and maybe it will make your boss hate you but you know what? All of that is still better than being the person at the butt of those goddam jokes.
Sitting around wishing something would change has never actually changed anything. But doing something a little bit hard, a little bit out of your comfort zone, a little bit risky could change at least one stunted, reactionary mind, it could shut up one geezer with an outdated sense of what’s socially acceptable. And that small change could freshen the air for someone who needs an ally more than you need to keep the peace.
Silence = death. Don’t be silent.