Silence isn't Golden

If you’ve been following Humans of New York on Facebook, you will know that Brandon has been covering people’s stories in Pakistan.  They are moving stories, typical of HONY, but what struck me most were the comments.  Followers were thanking Brandon for covering the beauty of Pakistan and its people.   

It weighed heavy on my heart.  Most of what I have read or heard in the media about Pakistan has been negative and I wondered if they knew what other people were saying about their country and their people. 

I imagined for a moment that these people commenting online were people I see everyday, they could be colleagues, neighbors or even friends.  I immediately felt guilty about the number of times I had heard a racist comment or generalization about Pakistan or something about Muslims and I didn’t say anything.  I would just shrug my shoulders neither agreeing nor disagreeing.  I preferred to be passive than to be considered strange by defending a group of people so many others disliked.

Have you done that?  Whether it be about Pakistan or other races, religions and orientations, did you find yourself in the middle of a discussion where people were airing out their views on what they thought about a particular group making gross generalizations?  I didn’t think I had done anything wrong because I hadn’t actually said anything negative about any group.  But I hadn’t exactly corrected anyone when they made hateful comments. 

I put myself in the shoes of the people of Pakistan. How would I feel if I had heard such awful things that had been said about me?  I would hate to think that the news they had read made up the entirety of who I was.  There was so much more to me-  so much more BEAUTY to me.  But everyone was focusing on all the hateful things that were being said, and they kept talking about it from person to person, to their partners and their kids, spreading like a vile plague.  I would be ashamed.

But it has happened to me!  

Being half Indian and half Filipino, I have heard my fair share.  I’ve felt ashamed and belittled when people made snide comments about how corrupt, uneducated or just plain annoying Filipinos were and then follow with, “No offence.”  “None taken,” I would utter back, overcome with shame.  I did feel offended!  I was offended too when they made generalizations about Indian men based on the horrific stories of rape they had heard in the news, saying they were "gross and creepy."  “No they aren’t!”  I would scream inside my head, but on the outside I was ashamed of what they had read. But most of all, I ached when the other people in the room kept silent and didn’t stand to my defense. It made me feel as though my people were not acceptable human beings and not worth defending.

The truth is, the people of Pakistan ARE representative of our colleagues, neighbors and friends.  The hate and judgment they have received online is much like the hate and judgment attacking minority groups in America.  The sweeping statements that we have made about Islam and it’s adherents are representative of the same kind of negativity that is said of people that we see every day.  Or if we aren’t saying it, we are remaining silent to avoid confrontation.

There was only one time I didn’t stay silent.  Someone had made a sweeping comment about the work ethics of black people, saying they were lazy and untrustworthy.  I immediately shot them down.  My kids are half black.  I was not about to let anyone say anything bad about my children.  I love my kids.  That’s why I stood up for them.

But Jesus did not call us to just love our kids.  One of His greatest commandments was to love our neighbors this includes our friends, our colleagues and the people in our community that we see on the buses, on the subway, at the store or walking down the street.  Are we still being loving when we remain silent?  I know I didn’t feel loved when I was amongst people who remained silent. We can’t say that we are being loving and stand by and stay silent.  We need to go out and learn the truth about people, like Brandon has done, and tell others.   We need to educate ourselves instead of forming an opinion based on what we have heard in the media. Instead of being silent, we must engage others in conversation about the truth and the essence of who these people are and understand their daily struggle.  

Join in the conversation about Creating Racial Harmony in the Church with Nikki Lerner on Tuesday, September 29th 7pm at the Forefront Office, as part of our midweek speaker series: Faith, Culture, Questions (FCQ).  For more information on this and other speakers, please visit: 

Photo credit for banner goes to Brandon of Humans of New York.