The Deafening Silenced

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it
— Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston.jpg

If you’re interested in oppression — and who wouldn’t be? — you might have noticed over time that there is one essential part for it to be successful: the oppressed must have no voice. For many of us, that oppression begins with the Bible, in which the story of women is told in terms of subjugation. In the Christian New Testament women are barred from speaking in church or teaching, and therefore effectively silenced outside of the home. Slaves are told to obey their masters. 

All of it keeps the hierarchical order in place, with the right people at the top of the heap, in that case ordered by God himself. It is hard to imagine anything more silencing than a book telling you that God wants you to shut up and obey, and without nuance: God isn’t interested in your complaints. Take it up with that fruit-of-knowledge-eating Eve. This tale has tied the tongues of millions of women and continues to do so, while men’s tongues wag like exuberant puppies.

Religion, the law, and tradition have all managed to silence those under the thumb of the ruling class. Silence is exacted through psychological and emotional manipulation, a lack of education, thorough and sometimes insidious demoralization and monopolizing resources. And while this nation was supposedly founded for the people, by the people, clearly this wasn’t truly so. The people have always had to get fairly infuriated and engage in epic and bloody battles before they received any rights at all, save for a few.

But lately those usually-muted voices have rushed the stage. I’m talking about the voices of Black women, Black men, victims of sexual assault, and women of all races. People who may not have run for office before, like Danica Roem, a transgender woman, did. She beat a conservative, notoriously homophobic man for a seat on the Virginia House of Delegates last November. 

It’s not only politics — TV and comedy has been gradually diversifying. More women are enjoying recognition in standup comedy, as are more people of color. Two years straight the Cecil B. DeMille award recipients, Meryl Streep and Oprah, gave rousing speeches at the Golden Globes. Viola Davis shook January’s women’s march to its knees with her address in January encouraging fierce but compassionate action for ourselves, and for those who can’t speak for themselves. 

The Black Lives Matter movement, though no longer new, continues to draw attention to the nation’s treatment of the black community, as do the NFL protests the Trump administration scorns. When conservatives criticize protests, comedians like Trevor Noah are on hand to point out that there is no good time or manner for Black Americans to protest, according to conservatives. This administration makes no move without loud, energetic response.

What’s more, these messages are overwhelmingly speaking for people, instead of against them.  They are speaking for immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and people are listening. It seems that fewer people are willing to be silent in an era where free speech is under threat. 

Even in small towns, Democratic candidates are running for office in Republican-dominated towns, and grassroots political gatherings are forming. There are more women television producers, and more women’s stories being told.

We’ve becoming somewhat more eager, and even expectant, for a diverse range of perspectives. When the freshly-scrubbed redhead Joe Kennedy III delivered the Democrats’ response to Trump’s first State of the Union address a couple of weeks ago, someone immediately griped on Twitter that Democrats could have chosen a person of color and/or a woman to deliver that speech. And, you know, Kennedy be damned: they should have.