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logs | alexander decurnou

silence and identity

Context: This post was written and published following the aftermath of the separate and distinct events involving Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. Its content is timeless.

I have a friend, a black (gay) friend. He has been one of my closest friends for the majority of my life, starting all the way back in middle school. In this time of regular violence against the black community, he shared a personal post stating that he was fed up with the silence of his former high school classmates during all of these events, and that “the silence was deafening” along with other raw and honest feelings.

At first, my reaction was dread.

What if he meant me? We’ve been “best buds” for more than half of our lives. There’s no way he’s talking about me; he knows how I feel. I’m black as well and he knows damn well that I don’t support all this violence. And besides, we went to high school with hundreds of people…nah, he’s not talking about me.

And I left it at that…for a bit. But then I thought about it.

What if he was talking about me? My friend is completely within his rights to call out anyone that he chooses; that’s his right and that’s the right of anyone else as well. He’s even more within his rights to call me out; that’s part of our responsibilities as friends to do so. And with the senseless violence and killings that have been perpetrated against our community, he’s so deep into his right to feel this way that he needs his own zip code. Regardless of whether I was the subject of his post, the fact that I felt that I could have been part of the people he was talking about tells me something: he’s right.

Because I’m black as well, and my silence is deafening. And silence is complicity. I refuse to be complicit in this any longer. Why have I been silent until now? Why have I consciously (and unconsciously) chosen to be silent through every event that has rocked our community?

As a biracial queer person, I have spent a considerable amount of my life feeling both a member and stranger in many communities, both personal and professional. It has always been a conscious choice of mine to be “everything to everybody” in order to feel included in spaces where I might not have felt immediately accepted for who I am. Some of you may know the phrases already: “not black enough”, “not white enough”, etc. In order to feel included in these spaces, I dampened some aspects of myself and amplified others. I diluted the essence of who I am and all of the nuance that makes me uniquely myself. This manifests itself in various ways, such as not being more forceful in calling out racist dogwhistles from management, or choosing not to tell older coworkers that someone’s intensely personal act of coming out is not for their benefit in any way.

Truth be told, there are benefits to this behavior. One may be viewed by their un-racialized coworkers and management as someone who’s less likely to “rock the boat”, which could lead to better professional standing and more opportunities. Their friends may think that their problematic viewpoints are supported as this person never protests against the objectively wrong claims that are espoused time and time again. And since those friends won’t ever have their claims and thoughts challenged in the ways that they should, perhaps this person becomes a confidant for others. There may be other benefits; there probably are.

But at what cost?

I chose these decisions every day of my life, both professionally and personally. There were simply too many instances in which I, as the token black or queer man, would have to bear the burden of educating those less informed on the multitudes of reasons as to why things are the way they are for those communities. I felt that it wasn’t my duty at points, I simply didn’t have the energy to do so, or in most cases, I didn’t want to have “Boat Rocker” added to my personality or reputation. So I silently sat, perhaps telling my more woke colleagues and friends about my frustrations, and feeling better in the moment. But after awhile, these episodes start to build up over time.

In continuing to avoid all of these things, my sense of identity started to diminish. Forming myself into its most externally palatable version actually led me to be formless. This loss extended far past my social and professional life. I began to lose the sense of what made me unique. I began to lose my voice; a voice that needed to be included in conversations, but also kept at bay in order to benefit from ambiguity. And to benefit from ambiguity and silence at a time when people suffer beatings or death simply for speaking their truth…it’s disrespectful at the very least.

I can’t continue to remain silent. While I feel that no one else can remain silent as well, I can only control myself. But truly, no one should remain silent in these times. And if we’re considering corporations to be people too, then yes, corporations need to speak up and let the market do its thing in response. But that’s a post for another day. Keep an eye on this space.

All black lives matter.