What I Didn’t Say

I’m not sure when I first began abstaining from political or politicized discussions. It might’ve been when I first came home from work, furious with my coworkers for tossing pro-Trump rhetoric around while disparaging the ideals and experience of Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton. It might’ve been the first, or the fifth, or the twentieth time this year that a member of the children’s lit community failed to grasp the importance of inclusion and acceptance in their fiction, and lashed out after being called out for it. It might’ve been when I realized that I was spending so much of my time being angry over all of the ignorance and injustice in this world that my happiness was suffering as a result.

I don’t regret the decisions I sometimes made to close my computer and put down my phone. I don’t regret choosing to focus on things that made me happy, and putting everything else out of my mind. What I do regret is not speaking up more when I had the chance.

In the wake of Tuesday’s election results, I’ve read many brilliant, heartfelt, fierce, encouraging blog posts. The vast majority of them were written by women, and the vast majority of those women are far more marginalized than I am.  If the man we’ve elected to lead our country decides to capitalize on a fraction of the promises he’s made during the last two years, those women stand to lose so much more than I ever could.

I am all for self care, and doing what you need to do to maintain your own mental health and happiness. I don’t blame or judge my friends and family who have stayed offline and away from protests because they’re still assessing their own feelings, or unsure about what to say. And yet, I am more aware than ever that being able to turn your focus from injustice or intolerance simply by stepping away from the internet is a mark of incredible privilege. So is being able to walk down the street without fearing for your own safety, or not worrying about which of your civil rights might be infringed upon if Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

As a woman and a person who benefits from the Affordable Care Act, I am definitely afraid for myself. I am not nearly as afraid as my friends who are people of color or religious minorities, whose gender identities and sexualities don’t match society’s norms. Who had to watch on Tuesday night as a significant portion of our country told them with their votes that they aren’t worthy of being protected or valued.

For a long, long time, I’ve felt like a fraud or a white savior every time I stepped into a discussion centered around social justice or minority rights. Not because those issues don’t matter to me, or because those issues aren’t important. Because most of those issues are not going to impact me in the same way that they’re going to impact the people who fight the hardest for them. I thought that I was doing marginalized individuals a favor, by giving them the floor and keeping my own mouth closed. I thought I was being supportive by trying not to step on anyone’s toes.

I was wrong, and I’m ashamed it took me so long to realize it. In choosing to stay silent during some of those discussions online, or biting my tongue when my former coworkers tossed inflammatory language around, I gave up my chance to enact change. Instead of being viewed as supportive, I’m sure I seemed complicit. Unconcerned, the way so many Americans were when they cast their votes on election night.

No more. I doubt that shutting down hate speech in the office, or correcting ignorant people on Twitter would’ve changed the election results, but keeping quiet changed nothing. A disgusting majority of white Americans voted for Trump. It’s time for those of us who didn’t to take action, work toward positive, long-lasting change, and speak up even when it’s hard. Even when we’re tired, or angry, or heartsick.

I’m sure there will still be nights when I’ll choose mental stability over involvement, or short-term happiness over slow-burning anger. But in this new and frightening America, I am certain of one thing. I won’t waste any more time regretting the things that I didn’t say, when I can speak up and speak out instead.

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