I have noticed that white women do this thing when they hear something that shocks them.
They go silent.
I know—because as a white woman, I have done it—that the silence reflects a thought process along the lines of Did that just happen? Did it mean what I think it means? Did everyone else hear the same thing? Is anyone going to say anything?
And then Should I say something? What will happen if I say something? Will others support me? What if they don’t?
And finally Maybe I’ll just let this one go. I’ll remember what was said and who said it, but no use calling it out now.
In a word, we hesitate. And the chance to set a new boundary of what is right and decent passes us by.
Here is what we need to understand about our hesitation. Really, really understand it so that we can find a way to change it: Our hesitation is a luxury.
After all, we do not fear when we send our young men out into the night. We do not fear that anyone will rip a nursing baby from our arms. We do not worry that our children are treated differently at school because of the color of their skin.
We know these things happen. But they happen to other people.
So we tolerate the bigots on our social media. We don’t report them or unfriend them because we don’t want to anger them.
We stay quiet when our friend’s husband or our first cousin makes an inappropriate joke. We don’t want to rock the boat.
We tell circumspect stories of racism and bigotry without naming names, which serves no one but the racist.
We indulge our privilege. We hesitate.
I understand the challenge of what I am saying. I have fought for my voice my whole adult life, against those would have me be quiet. I had to unlearn my hesitation and then I had to learn to speak the right thing—the truth and not my anger, fear or shame. I still don’t always get it right. I particularly struggle with the bigots in my faith community, since I want church to be a refuge. I hesitate.
But it’s time to face the challenge. We can’t afford this luxury anymore, and our sisters of color could never afford it. We either speak up for what is right, or we are part of the problem.