I remember hearing my friend, Jen, tell the attached story to me the day after it happened. She was so upset at herself for remaining silent. I remember telling her that it totally makes that she didn't speak out. Having uncomfortable conversations is, well, uncomfortable, to say the least, especially given her situation.
Fast forward one year to just last week. I'm sitting in my hairstylist's chair for the first time in 15 weeks. Happy to be there (finally) and making small talk, I ask her how it has been with reopening the salon. Was she inundated with people wanting to get their hair done immediately and hoping she would work long hours? Was it hard being back on her feet all day every day after so much time off? None of that bothered her, she said. What bothered her was having to listen to everyone talk about current events. She said it gets hard, and that she likes to play devil's advocate and ask them if they ever consider a different view, but she doesn't always do that because she knows some will not take it well. Then she says, "like, the George Floyd issue. I'm not a police officer, and I don't think I should be talking about how officers should or should not do their job. And, I'm sorry, but if you can say the words 'I can't breathe,' you can breathe. Because you can't talk if you aren't breathing."
Like Jen (in the attached article that I HIGHLY suggest you read), I sat in stunned silence and said nothing. I said nothing because the only thing I could think of to say in the moment was, "Are you (expletive) kidding me?" and I didn't think that would be conducive to a productive conversation. I just wanted her to finish my hair so I could leave.
On my drive home, the shame set in. Big time. I called a friend who knows this person, and I shared my experience and said I realize now I am part of the problem. My silence makes me complicit. So I am learning what to say and how to say it. Unfortunately, that was not the only conversation I've had in the past week about race, and it wasn't the most uncomfortable one either. It turns out that being silent is far more comfortable than having hard conversations about race and inequality with people you know and love. But in the long run, I know my silence only contributes to a problem I feel passionately about, so I'm ready for more difficult conversations whenever necessary.
Jen's story can be found here: https://medium.com/@jhsilbert/my-silence-failed-you-8966126988dc