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Silence is political

Today is Juneteenth in America.

If you’re not familiar with what that is (honestly, I only learned about it two years ago from an episode of Atlanta), here’s the quick summary: after the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in America were not instantly freed.

It wasn’t until 2.5 years later, on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers marched into Texas and freed a quarter million slaves who’d never been told the Civil War had ended.

Today is, for many black Americans, independence day.

And on this Juneteenth, I want to talk about silence.

I’m happy to see how many white people are finally talking about systemic racism, taking action, taking it seriously, actually listening to Black people.

But I’m also shocked and saddened by some prominent folks in our community—people with big, important platforms—who haven’t said anything at all. Some have argued that they’re not into politics, or that it’s not their place to talk about it.

Silence is political, too

Being silent about racism, police brutality, and white privilege says, “this doesn’t affect me.” It says that you have enough privilege that not saying something has zero impact on your life.

Look around the prominent voices in our community. The people who haven’t said anything yet… that’s a problem.

As Rage Against the Machine says, “Silence can be violent.”

This is not just an American problem

Some folks responded to my past articles mentioning that they don’t live in America, so this isn’t really relevant to them.

But every country suffers from systemic oppression, some more than others.

In India, Muslims face discrimination. In Egypt, Christians do. In Australia, Aboriginal people are discriminated against. It’s not always white people discriminating against black people, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to you.

What non-minorities can do about it

In a previous article, I shared some really simple stuff people in non-minority groups can do to help. They were a good start, but today, let’s talk about some more meaningful things you can do if you’re part of a majority group.

  1. Call racism out. Don’t just “let it slide.” Even if there are no minorities in the room, speak up, and tell whoever’s spouting racist bullshit to sit down and STFU.
  2. Make space. This can be really hard if you’re just trying to get your career going, too, but it’s important to make space for minorities. Decline speaking events that have only (or primarily) white/majority speakers. Insist that they replace your spot with a person of color. Got asked to work on an important project at work? Insist that a minority on your team is involved, too. Give up your spot if you have to.
  3. Push for change on your own teams. Is the team you work on mostly white? Mostly men? Mostly people of a specific religion? Make a stink. Insist they aggressively seek out more diverse candidates. “No one of color applied” is not a good enough reason. There are tons of insanely qualified black people. Either you didn’t look hard enough, or your culture sucks and they don’t want to work there.
  4. Push for equal pay. This is, frankly, something I haven’t done yet. In America specifically, it’s very taboo to talk about your salary. Employers like that, because it lets them pay some people (often women and minorities) less than others for the same type of work and level of experience. This is really uncomfortable if you live in America, but openly sharing what you make with your coworkers help flatten pay gaps.

People in marginalized groups have been fighting for equality for centuries.

I’m excited to see more involvement from white people around this globally, but this has happened in the past. Historically, after a few weeks, people have just… moved on.

This time feels different. Lets make sure we keep this momentum going in the months and years that follow.