When do you speak up?

written by Love Isn’t Enough contributor Renee; originally published at Womanist Musings

I was reading Spark in Darkness when I came across the following question:

If a friend or relative makes a racist or homophobic remark, do you tend to confront them or let it slide? Are you more likely to confront them if it offends you directly or someone else who seems reluctant to speak up?

I believe that the answer to the above question speaks very loudly about a personal commitment to social justice. Even though one claims to have a desire to confront isms and deal with undeserved privilege, if we allow comments to pass that devalue another, there is not real desire to fight for equality. A freedom fighter must have the courage of their convictions.

My children taught me courage. Before I had them, though I did not believe in homophobia, transphobia, sexism or classism, I was more likely to let it pass. After my first child began to speak, I started thinking about unintended lessons. I realized that through my silence, I was teaching him that the very things that I claimed to abhor were acceptable. I learned to speak out because I wanted my children to grow believing in the equal value of each and every single human being. In the eight years since I have been a mother the most important lesson that I have learned, is to have the courage of my convictions.

I have not always been perfect. At my former job, I remember an incident when someone used a homophobic slur. In fact he said, “I hate New York because it has too man F#gs”. The man in question was clearly a dolt, but the thought of calling him out at the company picnic, when we were all supposed to be having fun was too much. I invoked my privilege and remained silent. In the back of my mind, I worried about being thought of as too abrasive or sensitive. I had already developed a reputation because I spoke freely about race. The decision to remain silent is something that bothers me to this day. I look back at that moment and see it is a time of personal failure. I cannot even claim that I didn’t know his speech was offensive.

I suppose the answer to the question would be that I have not always been faithful to my beliefs, but hopefully as I grow and find the courage, I will speak far more often than I will remain silent. I see connections that I did not when I was young. I understand that one isms supports another and I have learned to listen. I may not always get it perfect because there is so much I need to learn, but at least I am committed to walking through this life with a deep and abiding belief in the goodness and worth of each person.

Your turn dear readers, have you found the courage of your convictions?

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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