Why We Shouldn’t Shame People for Being Silent During Protests - Public Goods

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Why We Shouldn’t Shame People for Being Silent During Protests

As a child — an African child — I grew up being manipulated and guilt-tripped into doing many things I didn’t want to do.

black man wearing denim jacket and watch

Every wall I faced had a specific kind of graffiti that made me feel bad for my (in)actions. I’d desist from playing football with my friends because, “What would people say if they saw the school’s quiz representative soiling himself alongside razz pupils?” At home, I’d cringe myself into discussions I had no interest in, just to pre-empt verbal kvetchings about me being too detached from the family.

I’d go out of my mentally paved way to do certain things I wasn’t built to do, so as to let the pressure lift away. I was too young to know that my mental health was being compromised.

I’ve seen comments on social media subtly or brazenly guilt-tripping people — celebrities and nobodies alike — for their apparent silence. There have been comments on Twitter such as “Kanye West has been uncharacteristically silent,” “I thought [insert famous black woman] was a black woman, too? Why isn’t she saying anything?” “If you’re black, and you’re quiet during these times, you’re racist.”

There are remarks such as these in the thousands. Some get told in person, and are being forced to say something, when in reality no one has a clear understanding of their silence.

There’s a little bit of insensitivity in these remarks. I believe they not only discomfort the targeted black people, but also make certain whites dive, unwillingly, into this collapsed star called Survivor’s Guilt. They are fidgety, simply because the public has indirectly called out their passivity. They hold themselves responsible for a systemic bias, and therefore are plunged into a battle they aren’t ready to fight.

Think of it this way. You grew up in a family of five. Your siblings are talented sportsmen, say football. You, on the other hand, are the quiet one, who constantly lies in bed, watching Netflix and eating crisps. You’re a writer, and you’d love to go into Hollywood someday, writing scripts and directing films.

Each time your siblings excel in a game, and they receive congratulatory nods from your parents, they look at you with expressions that make you feel useless. It gets to a point where their vile undertones of disapproval make you want to join a football academy, just to prove you aren’t useless. This treatment is spitefully unjust, right?

Another example is a monogamous romantic relationship where the partners are social antitheses of each other. One is a party animal, while the other is a painful introvert. They love each other regardless. It would be morally wrong for the extrovert to begin, one morning, to nag their partner into becoming guilty about inactivity.

Celebrity niches are replete with instances of guilt-tripping. The infamous Liverpool versus Barcelona clash of 2019 (apologies to non-fans of football) was perhaps Jordi Alba’s worst game in Barcelona’s shirt. He missed good chances, misplaced passes, and his wing was the more porous of the two defensive wings.

It’s safe to say Barcelona lost the game, chiefly owing to this stinker by him. Fans hurled invectives at him. At some point, spectators booed him, and these reactions only seemed to worsen his performance.

It wasn’t until a few days later that reports went public about what had happened in the dressing room at halftime. Jordi was discovered weeping, emoting severely. He was going through an off-the-pitch crisis, and this happened to have impaired his game, unbeknownst to fans, and probably some of his teammates.

We hadn’t known this. We’d cursed him. We’d made him feel more terrible. We felt remiss as a result, and this regret necessitated the question: What if we had been informed of his pre-game mental condition? Would we have felt equally sympathetic toward him?

Our reaction to people’s silence should not be contingent on our knowledge of why they’re silent.

There’d been several confessions by football stars who had gone, were going, and are going through what Jordi was experiencing at that time. During last year’s interview with Sarah Paulson, Rihanna revealed that “I never used to be this way. It’s only the last couple years that I started to realize that you need to make time for yourself, because your mental health depends on it. If you’re not happy, you’re not going to be happy even doing things that you love doing.”

Regarding why she’d been musically quiet since her latest studio album, “Anti,” there had been cyber-bullying from fans, constantly heckling her to neglect her business and give them another album. Her situation is akin to Adele’s, who, after a year of being quiet since the release of her third studio album, admitted, in a conversation with Lisa Robinson, to have been wrestling with postpartum depression. Naeto C, who left music to focus on his family, was recently theorized by fans to have quit because he couldn’t keep up with the revolution in Nigerian music industry. Chimamanda Adichie is always accused of being notoriously silent whenever there’s a viral news of gender-based abuse, because, as a prominent feminist, “her silence isn’t welcome.”

People should be allowed to cradle their silence without being made to feel bad about it. It’s probably their own way of fighting, of loving, of alliance. If your favourite celebrity is quiet during these times, it isn’t necessarily because they’re being pro-white supremacy, just as Kanye (who donated two million dollars to victims of protest and police brutality in Chicago in spite of his wordlessness, by the way) has oft-times been accused of. People should be allowed to fight, whenever, however, wherever they feel comfortable.

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Comments (2)

  • I agree with this sentiment. One never knows what folks are going through or thinking or needing, and it’s far, far better to cheerlead those who are speaking up, than shame those who aren’t. At least individually.

    Collectively, I’m all about putting the pressure on, to name the importance of taking action and speak up. I hope that voicing this call (in general terms) inspires folks in their individual action.

    Individually, however, no way, and I completely agree with what you’re saying. Everyone’s tasked with responding in the way that is right for them, and how each of us responds individually is no one else’s business except to perhaps offer support in their process if we are in a position to.

  • Hey Amy, thanks so much for your thoughtful response!

    I certainly would agree that collectively, we have a responsibility to use our privileges and platforms to bring awareness to issues for those who don’t have the same voice. However, everyone has their place in a movement, whether it’s through donations, charity work, legislative work, providing resources for those in need, support and more. All of these are valid, useful, and necessary parts of any movement, and we should be kind in remembering that activism looks different for everyone. Especially given the state of the world right now!

    Thanks so much for your insightful reply. If you’d like, feel free to use code BLOG15 for $15 off of your first order with us. 🌱

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