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White silence: an elephant pulling back a curtain with its trunk

White silence isn’t new. Neither is the white backlash and violence that comes after.

The only thing more exhausting and tiresome than explaining the sophisticated logistics of white supremacy to so-called white allies is convincing them that Black bodies are worth speaking up on behalf of, worth marching for, worth demonstrating for, worth petitioning for, even worth the social cost of standing up to other whites for.

If we are being honest — I mean, completely frank — this really should be a non-issue. Black people should not, nor should never have had to, to prove anything to anyone because the value of all humans, all citizens, should be presupposed from the moment of birth.

It’s 2016. Why is still a question or debate?

But it is. And it’s old.

Black people have been caught up in the white gaze for more than 400 years. Black people have been trying to prove their humanity to whites since 1619, arguably before then, and in doing so, elicit sympathy and help from whites.

Since in the eyes and imagination of White Americans being human means being white, what this has really meant is that Blacks have been trying to prove that they’re white.

The problem with this is obvious, and two-fold.

First, Black people will never be white.

Bleach won’t get that job done. Neither will an NRA membership or binging on countless hours of The Brady Bunch or Leave It To Beaver.

Second, white does not mean human. The latter is a fallacy — a deadly, debilitating lie.

Still, it is one whites have willingly, or temporarily, adopted to appease and pillar a very frail psychology.

And, I strongly suspect that this lie, this history, this racial agenda, is behind the deafening white silence that has swelled and traveled across social media like a fast-bleeding stain.

Not all whites, but a sweeping majority, I gather, from the loud crickets following on the heels of the unjust deaths of two more Black men — Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — at the hands of police officers.

White silence, as I employ it here, is not simply the inability or blatant refusal of White Twitter, friends and allies to attempt a connection with Black people during these kinds of heightened and intense moments of racialized trauma. It’s not simply their refusal to post a sympathetic remark or cozy Martin Luther King Jr. quote to any of their social media accounts.

White silence, as I employ it, is the refusal of whites to get their John Brown on, to unequivocally state what they intend to do, the steps they plan to take, to be a race traitor, a forever-accomplice in this 400-year-old battle to dismantle white supremacy.

White silence isn’t new. Neither is what follows — more backlash, more blame, more death and destruction heaped on black bodies.

That’s what really frightening about all this quiet.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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