What Silence Sounds Like

The President’s tweets about several Congresswomen who have been very critical of him were a cocktail of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. But it was the Republican Party that was shaken but not stirred. At least not stirred to speak up and say to the American people, “This was not right. This is not who we are. We are appalled.” Some heard strength in that silence, some heard practicality, but it sounded a bit different from where I am sitting.

You see, I sit across the dinner table from a young woman who looks more like the targets of the President’s attacks than she does like me. I hear first hand stories from my African-American son and daughter about how this type of rhetoric has filtered down to our youth. Kids will naturally see how far they can push the envelope; adults are showing them that they can push it pretty far.

My kids have stopped telling me how many times they’ve heard the N-word, even when it is directed at them, because it happens so often now. My son, a gymnast, was asked if his hands were calloused from picking cotton. Kids have even gone old school with their racism. “Sit down and shut up you uppity N——!” This is what silence sounds like.

I am regularly shocked by what people say directly to me. I have been told by Republicans that my kids “would be better off with their own kind.” As I stood outside of a Republican Firehouse Primary this May, a voter said that we “only adopted our kids because they would look good on our lit.”

I’ve had my home address put on a national White Knights website, forcing me to take my kids out of the county for their own protection. We received hate mail that had a picture of our family and the word “Disgusting” written across it along with a note that said, “Thank God for Corey Stewart. A man who is proud to be white.” This is what silence sounds like.

“You only care about this because you have black children.” That’s usually what I hear when the silence starts to get uncomfortable, as though the only people who should call out racism are those affected by it. The question is rarely reversed.

Why don’t you care about my children or any of the other children who hear racism come out of the White House unchallenged? Why don’t you care about the 45 million first generation Americans who hear a President tell the children of immigrants to go back to their country without any admonition from his own political party? Why do you think that because your words might cost you something that silence is acceptable? Why don’t you care what your silence sounds like?

From a political point of view, silence is slow motion political suicide. Silence means that the voters the Republican Party has lost will never come back. Silence communicates to the world that the party is more interested in doing what is right for them than doing what is right. Speaking up may cost folks elections this cycle because the Trump supporters will sit on their hands or primary them. Not speaking up will cost the Republican Party for a generation, perhaps forever.

In two or four years, when Trump is gone, what will the Republican Party say to lure voters back? “Hey, we couldn’t see an upside to speaking up so we just stayed quiet.” That’s a catchy campaign slogan, but it’ll be hard to fit on a bumper sticker. “We want to lower your taxes. Sorry about the racism. Our bad,” probably wouldn’t look good on a t-shirt.

Maybe we could message test, “Look, we couldn’t respond to everything so we just responded to nothing. Let’s lower the deficit.” We are going to need really big banners for all the explaining we’re going to have to do. But that’s what silence sounds like.

In general, I do not agree with the politics of Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. I don’t. However, just because I disagree with them ideologically does not mean that I have to agree with what the President said. Just because Congressmen and Senators are members of the same political party as the President doesn’t mean that they have to be silent. In fact, because they are members of the same political party as the President, when they don’t speak up they say even more. That is what their silence sounds like.

The President’s tweets were racist. The President’s tweets were xenophobic. The President’s tweets were misogynistic. I won’t stay silent, because I know what that silence sounds like.