Sunday, October 7, 2007

Self Silencing

I've been thinking alot about silence and in particular self silencing and all the various ways that we self-silence: holding your tongue, being afraid to speak truth to power, feeling intimidated into silence, choosing silence in order to let other voices be heard, silence as a goal in itself, and other variants of this nature.

I've been thinking of self-silence because there are sometimes things I choose not to write about in this blog because I know it's public, and especially now that I don't require people to be invited to view this blog, I have no idea who is reading my words and the conclusions they are drawing about me and my work/research and how what I write in this space may or may not have ramifications for the people who comment on this blog, my academic reputation, or the professional and personal affiliations I have.

I have been thinking of self-silence because I have had thoughts about the Duke lacrosse case in Durham and the fall-out of that case and the reaction of the communities in the South and around the nation to this case, and the way it links up to other contemporary racial issues like Jena 6, Clarence Thomas's new book, and even Jimmy Carter's trip (along with other humanitarian representatives) to Sudan. And I know that I am not writing about the Duke Lacrosse case because of the negative experience I had 2 months ago, and it makes me feel like a coward--that I am not speaking truth to power, that I am censoring myself, that I am letting the mass group of (I believe largely) men who sent me hate mail or wrote scathing comments win.

And yet, I also feel like what would be accomplished by inviting another feeding frenzy into this blog space? It's not dialogue that many of what I'll call "the rabble" want--it's blood. Or at least it feels that way to me. And it also takes up so much energy to respond or to even choose not to respond. And it does raise the question of whether the blogosphere is the appropriate medium/venue/forum to have difficult, challenging, and respectful discussions about race from people who don't agree with one another.

Yet, how are we to reach any sort of understanding if we don't try? And why does civil discourse seem so hard to come by, especially surrounding issues of race?

Any thoughts?


Paul said...

Have you read Kenji Yoshino's Covering yet? Your thoughts on "self silencing" are much along the lines of his discussion of how we all "cover" aspects of our identities in various situations to avoid conflict or to avoid being discriminated against.

I'm sure some bloggers would say generally that what you refer to here is also just a function of the blog as a forum. We all have to be wary of what we let out to an amorphous public, one that conceivably can consist of any- and everyone. But the particular qualities of virulent hate mail regarding race are very important to take into account. I don't know if it is possible to have useful discussions about race with people who are going to veer towards attack-mode. But as you say, don't we have to try at least? I do think sometimes it's about reaching people who are sympathetic but haven't really thought about these things explicitly. In some ways, it's not about convincing those who don't agree but about reaching those who have been privileged enough not to have to consider issues of racism.

Jennifer said...

I should definitely read Yoshino's book for multiple reasons, so thanks for reminding me of it. And I appreciate the comment also--that there is something about blogging, in particular, that lends itself to difficult civil discussions--probably the anonymity, the distance of having your comments appear in computer/text form, is part of this issue. But I also agree that there is something about the polemics of race--it's controversial and sensitive and political nature, that also makes this issue more difficult (I believe) to handle in the blogosphere. But where, then, can we start to have discussions where we can agree to disagree-where we can try to see each other's point-of-view? I guess the classroom space is one forum, or even book discussion groups, or perhaps public lectures?