How Black Indigenous People of Color are Silenced


Artwork from Amplifer by queer, femme Filipina-American artist Raychelle Duazo

A few weeks ago, I tweeted my support for the crafting website Ravelry after the website said they are banning support for Trump from the website. More accurately I tweeted that I was waiting for the fragile people to come out of the woodwork and say they were boycotting something they never used. From that Tweet evolved a Twitter conversation with Trump backers. I have a general rule of not engaging and I don’t argue with people I don’t know. It was fascinating to see where and how they took the conversation. The thread ended with @Kat_### (not her real handle) saying: “Oh pre tell how they [BIPOCs] have been silenced? This is America u can do whatever u like, o one is silencing there free speech! It’s people like u and ravelry who are trying to silence free speech from anyone who doesn’t agree with your ignorant propaganda. God Bless the USA”

This blog post was inspired by @Kat_### who needs to review their American history and current events.

Ways BIPOCs have been and are silenced

I’m not going to go into details on the individual topics listed below. Others have written more extensively about each one and I’m not an expert on any of the topics. I also want to show a systemic pattern of how silencing happens in policies, in practice, and over time.

Native American Boarding Schools – In the 1800s through 1920s many Native American children were taken from their families to force them to assimilate to white culture. The children were banned and chastised for speaking their home-indigenous languages. Taking children from their families silenced the way their culture, home language, and forced white standards upon them.

The silencing continues with the loss of languages. An estimated 3,000 of 6,000-7,000 languages are lost. When we lose languages we lose cultures, and we silence a way of being.

3/5 a Person – African American slaves were only counted as 3/5 a person during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Counting someone as less than a person in any form is a silencing tactic. The legacy of counting African Americans as less than a whole person can still be felt today. Here is an idea of providing reparations by giving African Americans a 5/3 vote.

Asian Americans as a Model Minority – Consciously or unconsciously Asian Americans are often pigeonholed into the category of “model minority.” Being forced or pushed into the model minority status silences many Asians by being overlooked, expected to behave a certain way such as believing Asian students are all smart and therefore don’t need help, or silencing by seeing Asians as not people of color.

Separating Latinx families – Right now Latinx families are separated due to US immigration policies. Many immigrant families also live in fear of speaking up too loudly or calling attention to their needs for fear of being visible to immigration authorities. Fear=Silence. As a Japanese American, I can point back to Japanese American history of incarcerating Japanese Americans in internment camps. The trauma of separation and a loss of liberties should not and cannot be replicated with our Latinx relations.

Counting and numbers – The 2020 Census is happening next year. Who is counted and who isn’t privileges some and silences others. The fear already put in place around being counted and being seen is a real fear for our immigrant families. An undercount of immigrants and children will have the consequence of ‘silencing’ through inadequate representation.

Voting rights – Think about who doesn’t have the right to vote – silencing right there. No voting rights: many immigrants, convicted felons, can’t get to a ballot box, gerrymandering, and on and on. If you look you can see how BIPOC voter rights are chipped away and it is a silencing tacit. Can’t vote, you can’t elect people who will serve you well.

Representation in government, business, and entertainment – Follow the hashtags and you’ll see how BIPOCs are under-represented in so many fields. When we strip this back a lack of representation means a lack of depth to conversations, which to me is a form of silencing. #OscarsSoWhite

Co-opting of Voice – Black Lives Matter brings visibility and an important voice to the Black community and violence happening to Black people. When people, many of them white fragile people, co-opted the movement by saying All Lives Matter, it was an attempt to silence the Black Lives Matter movement and to shift the focus away from the needs of the Black community.

Angry Messages – Many BIPOCs receive angry messages sometimes it is through actions like Trump telling four Womxn of Color elected Representatives to ‘go home.’ A few years ago I was walking in Seattle with two Native American elder friends. A passerby yelled ‘go back to where you’re from’ to them. My friend’s chuckled and muttered, “we are home, you’re the visitor.” The incident stuck with me because it was a stranger causing harm and sending a message that their presence and potential voice are unwelcomed.

What to do

Individual actions can begin to undo these legacies and practices of silencing. We can all take steps to bring voice and to create space for BIPOCs to be authentically heard. Here are a few:

  • Pay attention to who is speaking and not speaking in meetings – Are BIPOCs speaking up, if not why? Is there space for diverse voices, not just the same BIPOCs who speak multiple times.
  • When you facilitate meetings create an environment that allows BIPOCs to be heard. Call on BIPOCs first, force people to pause before opening the floor to questions, design your meetings and facilitation practices to center BIPOCs.
  • Question who is and isn’t involved and ask why they aren’t involved. If you’re not satisfied with the answer reach out to BIPOCs and ask them. Sometimes it is they aren’t involved because the space is sending a quiet message it isn’t welcoming.
  • Learn about wedge issues – Wedge issues are issues and topics that play BIPOCs against each other. People use these to prove BIPOCs aren’t in alignment with each other and therefore the topic isn’t relevant or people can’t act on it. As BIPOCs we’re diverse and we deserve the right to have diverse opinions. Don’t silence us by playing us off each other or causing lateral harm, especially with wedge issues.
  • White People: Don’t speak for BIPOCs, we can speak for ourselves. There are times you can be an ally by speaking up and other times being an ally means stepping back – there isn’t one magical formula, each situation is different and you’ll have to figure out in the moment what is the right thing to do.
  • Speak Up: Use your voice to condemn the attacks by Trump on four duly elected Womxn of Color Representatives. Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts were told by the President to ‘go home.’ This was a way to discredit their contributions and silence their power and achievements. Write to your elected official and say you stand with these four Americans and will not tolerate racism.

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