Being Quiet: Unpacking Silence in this Racially Charged Time

I should start with some facts about myself.

I grew up in Orange, NJ, a city that was once the hat making capital of the United States. It’s small, consisting of low income housing, suburbs, and an abandoned hospital. My parents were born and raised in Cameroon, Africa. They moved to the United States in their 20s.
I grew up Pentecostal, where praise dancing in the aisles and witnessing miracles was a typical Sunday at church.
I’m 5’3 on a good day.
I’m a color shade of brown that I have yet to find the right makeup foundation for.
I hate and love writing. I’m obsessed with chunky peanut butter and critical analysis. I lost a game of Words with Friends because I made a rookie mistake. I’m clearly not over the loss. I think that makes me competitive too, or really bad at moving on.

Lately, I have also been what’s considered a dirty word in this sensitive time.

Quiet.

Being quiet is associated with complicitness, inaction, passivity, and cowardliness. I wholeheartedly agree with the associations, which is precisely why I feel the need to unpack my current silence. In general, I hit the age of 33 and found myself rediscovering life and relearning about the world and my faith after experiencing trauma. I question myself more than I ever have, and I process information slowly. My joy comes out in sputters instead of steady streams. I no longer laugh at my awkwardness. I’m also relearning what it means to dream.

I have barely expressed my reactions to the current news: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, killed. Violently, needlessly. Amy Cooper threatening Chris Cooper. I have read the outrage, the headlines, and the Instagram stories. I am stunned that even a worldwide pandemic was unable to hold back racial injustice.

I am quiet right now from watching and hearing emotionally charged and fundamentally flawed arguments about rioting being wrong. That racism and conservatism are one. I am reading the memes from friends saying “I kneel for the cross and stand for the flag.” I’m looking at fragmented retellings of a Jesus as a pacifist who didn’t flip tables and crack a whip at the face of corruption and a Dr. King who only spoke of dreams.

I am quiet from hearing people rationalize that bad cops are the same as corrupt people in every other profession, that there is data to support that more white people have been killed by police within the past three years than minority groups, while dismissing that the same data reveals a disproportionate number of people of color being killed by police.
I am quiet because my dad once said you cannot expect to be free in a place you were once enslaved.

I am quiet because I performed the poem “Heritage” by Naana Banyiwa Horne in my Acting For Writers Class and unexpectedly burst into tears.

I am quiet because I am still grieving Tamir Rice.

I am quiet because trauma is in the black body’s DNA.

I am quiet from unpacking my view of a country I love and mourn.

I am quiet because I am reminded of the book of Job, where Job outwardly mourns and confides in his friends about his grief, only to be met with criticism and blame.

I remember a time when I was a kid at the beach with my family and I experienced the ocean and its power for the first time. My mother, a strong swimmer, was far out in the water, catching waves, and I wanted to get close to her. I, small and a poor swimmer, moved toward her when a wave pulled me under. I can barely understand the events that happened next, but while I was stuck, I had time to think. I raised my hand through the water and waited to be seen. Soon, I felt hands pull me up. My mother’s hands.

Ultimately, I am quiet because I feel stuck underwater, processing. But I know I cannot stay here. So my hand is up, telling you I am unpacking.

I believe taking action can and should look like many things. I also believe being quiet is not always synonymous with cowardice. Perhaps some people need help getting above the water.

I’ve had conversations with amazing friends, representing diverse socio-economic backgrounds and races. One friend, outraged over what’s been happening, also expressed confusion on how to feel about her place in these racial issues, as a white woman. Confusion, shock, and grief can be crippling. Not having all the answers can be crippling.

I also believe each of us is the answer to ridding this country of systemic racism, a system that, as my friend said to me, isn’t broken, but thriving.

This is why we have to do everything we can to avoid staying quiet for too long. We will drown if we don’t. Let’s continue to be open about our imperfect understanding of this cycle of racially charged violence. Let’s allow each other to be open about what we understand and don’t. Let’s give each other space to grieve and be angry and confused. But let’s help each other figure out the next move because staying underwater should not be the option. You’re needed above. We all are.

Ways to help now:
Support the Minnesota Freedom Fund
https://minnesotafreedomfund.org/

Support The Twin Cities Recovery Project
https://twincitiesrecoveryproject.org/

Contribute to George Floyd’s memorial fund
https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd/donate

Support posting bail for protestors around the country
https://bailfunds.github.io/

Read/Research:
Read Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52101.Strength_to_Love?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=MjjMF2JRUC&rank=1
Check out and subscribe to Transition, an African diasporic magazine
https://www.jstor.org/journal/transition
Read Well-Read Black Girl, Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim

Listen.

Talk.

Add to this list.

Writer – Chantal
Instagram: chantaleyong
Twitter: @chantaleyong

Chantal Eyong is a media producer and writer. Her interests are in exploring and writing about African diasporic narratives in media. She currently resides in Southern California where she is pursuing an MFA in screenwriting at University of California, Riverside.

Sayaspora
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