The Privilege to Not Be Silent

How long before everyone starts to understand, complacency is no longer an option?

Photograph of Joel Bergner's "Un Pasado que aun Vive" mural in Mission District, SF

Photograph of Joel Bergner’s “Un Pasado que aun Vive” mural in Mission District, SF

For a long time now I have been thinking about going back to school. I ask myself : How are you going to honor who you are in what you are going to spend ‘the rest of your life’ doing? How can you singly impact a catastrophic world view you see us all spiraling towards? How can you be The Change without having a reference for what The Change is? How can any of us, really?

In undergrad as my disdain of government and corporations grew, my academic focus shifted quickly from Political Science & Politics to Ethnic Studies. I was shattered through the understandings of actual History and of the trajectories that brought us to this place and time in this World. So much anger at systemic racism and environmental degradation, I tried and I tried and for years – my anger in the form of activism never amounted to much. The more I raged, the more I realized my rage fell on deaf ears. People were not listening, it was too hard to hear. Most notably, if you benefited from it.

I gave up academics and immersed myself in a passion I didn’t know I had. Food. I spent a decade working industry jobs while putting myself through school, often two jobs at a time (because we all know how they pay, and University isn’t cheap). Student Dining Commons, Hot Dog Stands, Pizza Joints, Coffee Shops, Upscale Soup kiosks, front of the house, back of the house, manager, dishwasher, chef… I did it all. I lived food. Farmer’s Markets were my main sustenance outside of all the meals I ate at my jobs (a survival strategy adopted my freshmen year). I bought things in season, I obsessed over sustainability and bioengineering , I wrote blogs about food, led Epicurean tours, I boycotted all the things. I was happy in this industry… but some things just weren’t right. The same issues that plagued my academic career and left me fleeing in a state of hopelessness were beginning to resurface. How could we be making this amazing food all day long, that none of us could afford to buy for ourselves? How can this industry waste so much, when there were so many people in dire need? The systemic racism, the environmental degradation. The industry fueled by a workforce they refuse to acknowledge. Food being picked by, dishes being washed by, meat being butchered by a people we put a fence around and told not to come back home. Watching respected colleagues getting passed by for promotions because they couldn’t speak the way people thought they should be spoken to. Seeing friends and family subsist on below poverty wages, because they weren’t allowed to work here anyway. But the worst part was, that they couldn’t raise their voices in protest. Nor could I on their behalf. Don’t confuse it for complicity. People had families to support and kids to raise. Each and every one of us knew what our voices would bring … and so we respected the silence. It is sometimes stronger than protest – something someone with the privilege to not be silent often forgets.

When my daughter began to grow inside me, I knew I had to leave the industry. Much the way I left academia, I was in a blind rage. The world I wanted for her was far different. This couldn’t be it. My early journey as a mother was painful. I was feeling isolated from a queer community who no longer identified with me as a mother and a wife. I was seeking companionship with women for all the wrong reasons and betraying the most authentic parts of myself in a struggle to belong. Finding who I was as a mother was really a process of finding who I was as a person. I didn’t want to do it, because I knew where that person was…. And I didn’t want to go back for her. The joys of a child in your life are boundless. You could easily get lost in the euphoria of it and just completely disregard all the rest of everything. At least I could. I really wanted to. Someday she would grow up though, and I would look around in horror at the world I put her into and I would curse every moment of my life that I didn’t try to make it better for her.

Photograph of Martin Travers "New Dawn" in the Mission, SF

Photograph of Martin Travers “New Dawn” in the Mission, SF

It was this realization that brought me to my current path. A hope that I could find a common ground with mothers, all kinds of mothers, and on that common ground a movement can be had. That birthing and feeding and carrying our young will have bonded us in an understanding that Things.Just. Have.To.Change. That sharing in the primal existence that is maternal love, we would find words where there were none and answers where we had none, and transform all these things about the world that the rest of the world just couldn’t get their minds around.

So that’s where I stand today, grasping at straws. Wanting to fix the problems of systemic racism and environmental degradation. Being enraged at the things in this world that we’re told we can’t change, but having the sense to know we have to still. But because I can, because I possess the privilege too – I have to do something. We cannot bite our tongues for fear of offending. Retaliation doesn’t mean for us what it means to so many others. We must engage everyone. It’s so unbelievably hard, but how much harder must it be for someone with no option? This isn’t going to go away on its own. How long before everyone starts to understand, complacency is no longer an option? Either you are a part of the solution, or you are the one standing in the way of it. So get out of the way.


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