Saturday, March 26, 2016

Were you there when they crucified....? When Silence is Violence

Crucifixions were community or public events, spectacles (like modern-day lynchings from trees, with nooses). They could not be effective rituals for public displays of dishonorable and violent state sanctioned death without the crowds who cheered, jeered, and even cried at the sight of a tortured human being, as life slowly faded with the flow of blood. We read of no protestors at Jesus' crucifixion; mourners, yes. If there was any significant protest or revolt, the gospel writers did not think it relevant to mention (many of his closest community scattered). Surely in Jesus' words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" we can perceive, or at the very least infer, the violence of silence.

Silence in the throes of violence is a form of violence itself. When major American media outlets are silent when 22 or more people, worshipping in a mosque, are murdered by a suicide bomber in Maiduguri, Nigeria, salt is poured into gaping wounds, inflicting further violence. When CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and local media outlets ignore or footnote the murder of black and brown bodies, they do violence to the families and communities who mourn and render inconsequential the lives taken. And the violators are further emboldened because they can continue to inflict violence upon the vulnerable in the invisibility or shadows constructed by the darkness of the world's silence.The silence perpetuates a culture that considers those black bodies as more disposable than others. Silence in the face of violence demonstrates and reinforces a low value placed on certain lives, most often diminishing the significance of brown, black, and poor people's lives.

If we were there, if we know of the violence and we say or do nothing in protest, our silence is violence. I once sat in a meeting of some peers, Christians, the only female present (and at that meeting the only black person), and was told by the most influential voice in the room that "you will vote with us." I did not, because it was not in the best interest of many black and brown bodies for me to do so.   But I was more hurt, felt more violated, by the silence of my peers  than by the bullying tactics of the one. When people are being or have been violated, silence is violence.

Statistics show that when women of color are murdered and/or raped, the violence inflicted against them generally receives no news coverage. Media cooperation is often crucial in solving crimes. And how it is done, if done, determines whether the public will sympathize with the victim. If the victim is painted as less than perfect and dehumanized, as is the case with most minority victims, there will be little to no public protest or cooperation. Many of us don't protest the media silence because we have been convinced that those so violated were responsible for their own deaths and or rapes; that they were the victims of a "disgraceful" violence because they lived unworthy or insignificant lives. Perhaps, many felt the same about Jesus of Nazareth ("Can any good thing come from Nazareth?") and his death row inmates. Our silence or failure to protest, to demand that their lives, their pain matters as much as someone else's is a form of violence in itself. Our silence, our lack  of protest helps to maintain a hierarchy of human worth wherein certain violated bodies, primarily brown, black, poor, nonChristian, other-gendered bodies, deserve little to no protest and thus we inflict violence upon violence. Our silence in the face of violence is violence. The blood soaked ground and those living in the throes of violence cry out, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken us?" Silence is not an option, not for the godly, not for the humane, not for those of us who claim to be nonviolent!

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