By Rachel Puryear
It might seem like in order to effectively fight racism and other social evils, one must be loud, and always unabashed about getting in people’s faces. That shouting down racists (and those who sympathize with racists) is the only useful tool for ridding ourselves of the social plague of racism.
Certainly; a willingness to speak up, protest, argue, and other assertive behavior is essential in fighting against injustice. Many celebrated civil rights leaders did exactly these things.
But what if you’re more of a quiet, non-confrontational type of person, and constant battles with people (online or in-person) will wear you out quickly before it will help anyone or anything? Or, what if protesting just isn’t feasible for you because you are infirm, you have little kids, or you have a limited tolerance for crowds (which is true for most introverts)? Do you have anything helpful to offer in the fight for racial justice?
Yes, you absolutely do.
There are plenty of things you are well suited for that are also essential in fighting racism – and that you are better suited for than people who like to fight usually are. Skills like listening, empathizing, thinking critically, and understanding subtlety tend to come more naturally to people who tend to listen and think before responding, and are more cooperative than aggressive. And these skills are key for a more just and fair society.
Listening is Key.
If you are more quiet than confrontational when there is a disagreement, you are probably a better listener than most people who are typically quick to argue. Listening to people who have experienced marginalization, and truly paying attention to what they have to say and the impact that systemic inequalities have on them; is an undervalued yet critical part of advocating against racism and other injustice, as well as further understanding the meaning of privilege. If you are a good listener, you have an important capability in fighting racism.
Empathy is Essential.
If you encounter someone whose life has been different from your own, especially when they have lacked many advantages you have had – do you dismiss and feel superior to that person? Or, do you try to better understand where they are coming from, and genuinely believe that they also deserved good opportunities? Or, when you think about hardships and difficulties you have gone through; do you believe that others should have to go through hardships just because you did, or take from your experience a lesson that no one else should have to go through that? If you are more like the latter on both, it is a sign that you have a good capacity for empathy for other people. Using this to challenge your racial biases (even the best of us have them) and work on yourself and examine your assumptions about race, helps improve your awareness of others and increases the chances that you will treat others with a sense of equality and dignity.
Critical Thinking is Necessary.
If you tend to think things through and process information before forming opinions, as opposed to tending to make quick judgments without much thought; you probably process information deeply, and think carefully before responding. This is a useful skill in carefully considering views other than your own, and in becoming more aware of and reexamining your own beliefs and assumptions.
Some Understand Subtleties, and Some Don’t.
Being able to not only hear and understand problems, but also to be able to think through appropriate solutions based on the circumstances; tends to come more naturally to quieter types, and lends itself well to solving problems big and small. Thinking through nuanced problems and weighing the pros and cons and special considerations of different options, helps one come up with ideas for problem-solving which are both compassionate and effective.
In short, this does not mean that you cannot or should not cultivate more assertiveness, if you feel you should. However, it does mean that if you want to start/do more in fighting racism, you can right now. What you already have to offer can do good immediately. However you utilize your strengths in doing so, just do something – the world desperately needs for more thoughtful and reasonable people to speak up. ❤