Small, effective change starts with saying, “That is not okay”

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Zoey smashing the patriarchy

I don’t really do New Years resolutions, but if I resolve to do one thing, it’s this: I will speak out against bigotry. I will speak out against sexism. I will speak out against any kind of rhetoric that marginalizes and encourages oppression of other human beings.

In the weeks after the election, I made the painful realization that no matter how many articulate blogs I write, I’ll never be able to change anyone’s minds. But changing minds is no longer the point; speaking up is. A bigot who believes all non-whites should “go back to where they came from” will receive a “I don’t share your bigotry” response from me. Speaking up, at the very least, sends a message to others that hatred is not okay. It reminds bystanders that allies exist.

This could happen in any number of places. It could happen at your own dinner table surrounded by relatives. It could happen in your church groups. It’s already happened in public spaces like shopping malls, department stores, and restaurants, and will continue to happen so long as bigots have an inspiration that keeps their steam going. Donald Trump is that inspiration; he’s their role model to empower and embolden them. What members of the resistance need are people to empower and embolden them just as much.

Educated Americans know that racism and intolerance didn’t just appear when Trump ran for president. What sheltered, suburban kids like me are now shocked to see is the lack of shame people have when expressing that intolerance – how some go so far as to assume that anyone appearing white will agree with their views. If you are on the right side of history, you have a responsibility to show that that assumption is flat wrong.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: silence, like it or not, is consent. I understand that sometimes people don’t speak up because they’re afraid. Others don’t speak up because they don’t want to “make waves.” I challenge you this year to work past that fear. Lives and liberties depend on your resistance.

I write these words here on a public forum to remind myself to do this as well as everyone else. My idol growing up was Joan of Arc, and had Trump taken office around the time I became a teenager, in a perverse way I’d have been somewhat thrilled by the so-called golden opportunity to go down in history. I wouldn’t have literally marched on horseback to the White House with an army behind me, but I’d be righteously incensed and waiting for chances to stand up for the nation’s underdogs, my own safety be damned (if you’re thinking I was one strange, obnoxious child, you’re exactly right).

I’ve learned a thing or two since then: mainly that most heroes, or at least the ones I look up to, don’t actually want to be heroes. They don’t put themselves in perilous situations so historians might one day write books and documentaries about them. No, they put themselves in harm’s way when it becomes a necessity, and when it seems like no one else will do it. It’s grueling work to be a true leader: work I can’t possibly understand from the comfort of my warm home, sitting at my computer. My preferred “battle tactic” is hiding under the bed with a bottle of Xanax. I’m not cut out for Joan life.

But with whatever power comes from having a blog, or just having a voice, I can also point out responses like “Stop being so angry”; “Why can’t we just get along”; “You need to calm down” for what they are: silencing tactics. I haven’t seen examples of bigotry so much as “nice people” trying their darndest to keep things calm and pleasant to assuage their own consciences. That, too, is dangerous in its own way.

I can’t allow that anymore. And neither should you. You don’t have to start the next revolution, and certainly no one is expecting you to. But if you hear something, say something. Then, for your own sanity and security, walk away.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
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