The Violence of Silence

From my semi-quarantined home on small, rural Lopez Island, Washington, I’ve been closely following the Black Lives Matter protests around the world. One slogan I’ve seen on signs people carry at demonstrations is White Silence = Violence.

White silence is violence
American Friends Service Committee photo

My Quaker faith teaches me to enter into silence as a way to listen for the voice of the Divine. I cherish the practice of sitting with others in silence; some refer to it as “expectant waiting” for Spirit. Out of that expectant waiting comes awareness I have much to learn about Black lives, Black stories, systemic racism, and white supremacy. I also recognize it’s white privilege that allows me to silently study and listen.

In early June, CBS News reported comments from Black people about “White Silence on Social Media: Why Not Saying Anything Is Actually Saying a Lot.”  I especially took to heart what two people had to say.

Attorney Catherine Moran Aveni spoke vividly about the violence of white silence, especially related to social media posts: “I compare it to being on fire,” she said. “It’s like if you were standing in a fire and calling out in pain, and another person was standing three feet away and not in pain, not on fire, and refusing to acknowledge your pain while twirling around talking about a banana bread recipe.”

Savala Trepczynski, director of The Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice  explained, “ White silence is incredibly powerful. It’s not neutral. It acts like a weapon. It’s not even silent, it speaks volumes.”

~    ~    ~    ~

The tag line on my social media feed bios reads, “Believes everyone has a story to tell.”  As a visual information processor and a writer, I turn to books, essays, poetry, photos (and sometimes podcasts) to learn about those stories.  Fortunately, there are more stories of Black lives being told than ever in my lifetime (although, sadly, white men’s voices still dominate the writing and publishing worlds).

@jane_mount image of antiracist books

My friend Emma Ewert introduced me to many diverse authors in 2017 through her blog chronicling her year of “Reading Diversely.”  Now she’s started a new blog, Fact and Fable, that recently featured BIPOC Authors and Voices. (Through Emma’s post, I learned that BIPOC is an acronym for  Black, Indigenous, People of Color).

memoirs-by-women-of-colorFor the stories of people’s lives, I turn most often to the memoir genre. Although I’ve read a number of memoirs by Black authors, Emma introduced me to many more through this link to Book Riot’s 50 Must-Read Memoirs by Writers of Color. I’d add one more title to this list: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Institute.

Many nonfiction books also include elements of the author’s personal life. Goodreads created a list of “20 Highly Rated Nonfiction Books by Black Authors,” many of which are on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Books-0620-FB-940-492-antiracist_reading_listAnd today I discovered that Friends Journal published A Quaker Antiracist Reading List.

The most comprehensive Anti-Racist Resource Guide I’ve found was created by Victoria Alexander, M.Ed. In addition to a reading and film list, it includes links to podcasts, organizations, children’s antiracist resources, policing, and Black businesses to support.

Another place I’m listening to Black voices is Instagram videos including those by:

Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, @ijeomaoluo


Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here, @austinchanning

~    ~    ~    ~

For now, I think raising up these BIPOC voices is the best way for me to not participate in the violence of white silence. And I can say this:

I see you.

I hear you.

I’m listening to you.




    1. You’re very welcome, Emma. And I must thank YOU for your post that inspired and supported me. I’m so glad you’ve started a new blog. I look forward to reading it.

    1. Thanks, Gretchen. I agree; Emma did valuable work putting her list together. And thanks to you, too, for your efforts to mobilize Lopez Quakers to uproot racism.

  1. Hello. I have been keenly following your posts and every time I read I feel moved to start writing about blacks especially here in Africa. As a young kenyan teen I feel that we blacks have some very touching stories and due to inferiority in the surrounding ,we find ourselves not bold enough to let them out. I feel that atleast you can give me a chance to participate in your vox-pop or help me produce an exceptional story. Thanks in advance. At the moment I have a problem with phone so my Communication maybe intermittent. Thanks On Jun 16, 2020 7:21 AM, “Iris Graville – Author” wrote:

    > Iris Graville posted: “From my semi-quarantined home on small, rural Lopez > Island, Washington, I’ve been closely following the Black Lives Matter > protests around the world. One slogan I’ve seen on signs people carry at > demonstrations is White Silence = Violence. My Quaker fa” >

  2. Well said. And I can recommend the movie made based on “Just Mercy,” with the same title. Both are excellent. Others I’ve read in the last year or so, which I recommend: “Washington Black,” “The New Jim Crow,” “My Grandmother’s Hands,” and “Waking Up White.” We as white people are very fortunate, right now, that so many Black people are willing to speak out about their experiences of racism, about the racist history that is given a cursory nod, if any, in public school curriculums, about the realities of living while Black in America. It gives us a remarkable opportunity to be quiet and listen. To lean in, and listen hard. And then go away and figure out what to do about that. For us as Quakers, that may be the time for silence. As the old Quaker joke goes, “The service begins at rise of worship.”

    1. I agree, Virginia. I’ve been reading, watching, and listening, too. I liked the movie, “Just Mercy,” but, as usual, I liked the book even more. The book includes much more of Bryan Stevenson’s personal story, and I love the way he interwove it with Walter McMillian’s story. Right now I’m reading memoirs of contemporary Black women – “I’m Still Here” by Austin Channing Brown and “When They Call You a Terrorist” by Patrisse Kahn-Cullors, a founder of Black Lives Matter. You’re right, I learned virtually none of the history of racism in school, so I’ve been catching up the last few years. And am still learning and discerning what is my work to do.

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