Tag Archives: white silence

Tearing Down the ‘White’ Wall of Silence

Image result for wall of white silence

There has been much talk about the “blue wall of silence,” that is the expectation, the unwritten rule, the code shared among those who wear blue and carry a badge to protect and cover for their fellow officer.  They have to stick together; it is the police officers against a dangerous world.

They will take care of each other.  The police officers take care of their own.  No different than the gang culture, it simply means, “Don’t snitch.”

It’s not unusual.  No one wants to experience betrayal and everyone wants to believe that there are those that they can depend on.  The problem occurs when having their back requires that you and I turn a blind eye and keep our mouths closed when we see them do something immoral and illegal.  Ironically, instead of speaking out against injustice wherever they see it, some police officers keep silent if it comes from within the ranks.

For these folks, there are borders, restrictions, blue lines that should not be crossed.

There is good silence: contemplative silence, meditative silence, shocked silence, where we find ourselves at a loss for words.  All of this is normal silence.  Then, there is bad silence.  When we are a witness to hurt, harm, danger and even death and we say nothing.  Instead, we excuse, defend, deny, rationalize, justify and demonize the person affected– every single time.  It is not a new phenomenon or a new problem.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. openly rebuked his Christian and Jewish brothers who did not speak out and step out in faith with their African American brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.

I wonder if this same sentiment is true of European Americans, of those socially colored white as a culture.  Is there an unspoken rule, a cultural expectation that persons do not turn on those of their own culture?  I would not be surprised as it would be an expression of white pride, a distortion of appreciation and respect for heritage and history.  To be sure, the same could be said of any other culture who frowns on the airing of dirty laundry.  The difference is the dehumanization, depreciation, devaluing, damaging and even loss of life that happens as a result of keeping quiet.

Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came” is a frightening reminder of the dangerous effects of silence. Still, nothing worthwhile is done without risks.  So, before you speak up, let me offer you these warnings.  Before you open your mouth:

  1. You will have to talk back to yourself, confront yourself, challenge your thinking as it relates to race and its progeny.  What do you really believe?
  2. You will need to deny your deny racialized self, laying down your position of social power due to the privilege of whiteness.  In other words, you will need to turn in your white card.  Who are you really without it?
  3. You will need to reject the lies that have kept you comfortable.  What stereotypes about oppressed groups have aided and abetted your silence?
  4. You will need to accept your responsibility, your complicity in the crimes and cruelties committed against persons that are not socially colored white.  What have you really done?
  5. You will need to release power and control of the outcome, of the land and resources that the social construct of race say are your divine right.  What are you holding onto?

Start answering these questions and the white wall of silence will come tumbling down.


See also: Jack E. White, “The White Wall of Silence,” Time Magazine, June 6,1999

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” August 1965


Don’t Wait for Donald Trump

donald_trump_speechIt is no surprise to most Americans that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made yet another political misstep and refuses to take a step back to examine himself.  Trump recently said that federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, a Mexican American born in Chicago and a graduate of Indiana University, is biased against him.  Trump believes that he would not be fair to him because of his ancestry.  According to Trump, his “race” (Please note: Mexican is not a race though some political commentators have described it as such.) disqualifies him from making sound decisions as it relates to the charges of fraud that Trump University faces.  Trump believes that Judge Curiel would not give him a fair hearing because he plans to build a wall at the U.S.- Mexico border as his solution to immigration concerns.

Trump was given an opportunity to autocorrect himself in several interviews but instead doubled down, adding that he did not trust that a Muslim justice would give him a fair hearing either.  At a rally in San Diego, he even turned the tables on the federal judge, labeling him as “a hater, a hater of Donald Trump.”   Persons from his party to include Newt Gingrich have spoken out against him.  Gingrich called his attack on the federal judge “inappropriate.”

But, I would expect nothing less from members of the media and his party, both of whom seek to appear progressive, tolerant and allies when it comes to diversity.  It’s all about the ratings, the votes and of course, the money.  But, they already know who Trump is and what he stands for.  A story released yesterday from The Washington Post finds in two studies a connection between Trump’s rise in popularity and racial anxiety.  So, why keep asking Trump to say what we want him to say?  Why not say it ourselves?

There is a history of damaging and deadly proportions as it relates to the choice to be silent.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about it from a Birmingham jail in August of 1963 and directly questioned the faith and witness of “white clergy” and the “white church.”  He challenged those who questioned the necessity and timeliness of the movement.  For those who wanted him to wait, he had this to say, “We must see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.” Pastor Martin Niemoller learned this lesson perhaps during his seven years in a Nazi concentration camp:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Well, first Donald Trump came for the immigrants and you did not speak out– because you were not an immigrant.

Then Donald Trump came for women and you did not speak out– because you were not a woman.

Then Donald Trump came for persons of Mexican ancestry and you did not speak out– because you were not a Mexican.

Then Donald Trump came for Muslims and you did you not speak out– because you were not Muslim.

Then he came for you– and there was no one left to speak for you.

First, persons dismissed his bid for presidency.  Next, they denied that he would become the presidential nominee.  Now with votes in hand as the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican party, it is not enough to denounce his words.  I am not certain as to what persons were waiting for and what else they need to hear before they speak up, but I would suggest that you not wait for Donald Trump to say what needs to be said.