Silence is NOT Compliance
By Lucy Wormald (she/her), illustrated by Yi Jong (she/her)
I was feeling a bit itchy about the theme of this issue. I wasn’t sure where this feeling came from or if it would go away so I mooned around for a month, limping from one fairly shit idea to another. I was hoping to get my mitts around a pitch that would demonstrate a brilliant stroke of avant-garde thinking. Early on all I could muster were a few jaunty ideas such as ‘cucumber is the best party snack’ and ‘open toe shoes in public spaces should be banned’ (a hot take, nay a truth, I firmly stand by and will publish a book on in the future). Starting to get a little frantic, I made a desperate move. I turned to my sociology student roots and sidled up, a little sleazy, to hot takes on social issues. Everyone loves a think-piece on the cataclysmic nature of our society, so why not throw in my two cents? I started paddling about in concepts of feminism. I did a little research on the double standard of moralising between OnlyFans and other sex work. Changing lanes, I tried to think of a time my feminism had been challenged but came up short (a red flag – the flaw evident from the beginning). I laid out all my opinions on fourth-wave feminism and displaying the female body and sexuality. Friends suggested adding an intersectional dimension by examining BIPOC exclusions from mainstream feminist critiques. While an excellent concept for an article, my sense of unease escalated at the thought of writing such a piece.
After trying a slew of concepts on for size and finding them all to cause me a certain amount of prickling discomfort, I decided to check the hot take care label. Printed under Douse with a jerrycan of contrarianism and set ablaze, it read Avoid mixing with privilege. I am a white, middle class, tertiary educated woman. The ideas I have are not my experiences of being female. I am not a sex worker. I am not BIPOC. Due in part to occupying a privileged space within the hegemonic definition of the feminine, I have not had my ideas of feminism challenged by feelings of unsustainability or internalised patriarchy. Looking over my twenty years, absent is adversity and intolerance. I have never found myself caught in the nexus of social barriers because of my identity. I have had an easy life – the effortlessness of my path tempered by the subjugation of others. To toss a stone into the throng from my place on our social stairwell with the purpose of measuring the ripple it may cause feels like a misdirection of my privilege and a misuse of this small (but much-loved) platform I have been granted. This process held up a mirror. The reflection shot back was of a white girl attempting to belch hot takes on things she knows nothing about. Instead of having a hot take, I have had a hot realisation of the extent of my privilege and how it parameters and casts my opinions. It is important to not avert my gaze from what I have glimpsed.
My overwhelming feeling was that the identity spaces that I occupy meant that I should not be executing hot takes. Hot cakes? Stack 'em high! Hot steaks? Sizzle me up one! But a hot take on an important issue is not an arena for my voice to fill. To speak to something I have not lived and to chime in to a dialogue for the sake of being provocative, embodies much of the problem we see with performativity and allyship in contemporary activism. The slightly obnoxious judgements of a privileged white girl isn’t a needed remedy. Our world is noisy enough. Sometimes silence is best.
The phrase ‘silence is compliance’ was used heavily online after the death of George Floyd to highlight the importance of using your platform to speak out. It is a warranted inclination to demand action from the most privileged in our society and when a social issue becomes a topical discussion, there’s an expectation for those with a platform to offer their take.
I do believe the privileged have a responsibility to use their power to champion equality and justice. However, aided by social media, the demand for people with platforms and followings to say something – anything! – feels misguided and ineffective, often working to merely shroud the voices of those directly affected. Efforts to achieve solidarity in social movements are plagued by the privileged centering themselves for their own purposes. In my circumstance, I would have been stealing an experience for the sake of writing a poppin’ article and feeling good about it. The fine line between commandeering a cause for your own gain and using your platform to speak out in genuine solidarity can be hard to see when it is the norm to ignore it.
We have seen a lot of hot takes by celebrities, TikTokers and good old average joes within our contemporary social issues, most recently the Israel-Palestine conflict. For consumers of hot takes, this may be the first time they have come into contact with the issue and forcing people with little knowledge of it, but a platform to make comments, can lead to the spread of misinformation and prejudice. Additionally, forcing a group of people who haven’t expressed an interest in social issues to post political content can encourage performative allyship.
In the context of BLM, we saw an unprecedented amount of white and privileged folk engage with the uprising. While it was widely acknowledged that this solidarity was helpful, a lot of engagement (talking ‘bout you, Instagram black squares) was performative and centralised white folk, eroding the purpose of the movement and dislodging focus from the matter. The existence of the aforementioned line between solidarity and centering means we must ask ourselves questions about our intentions. Why are so many privileged people participating in the BLM uprising given the long history of complicity about policing and racist practices that Black communities have suffered? Are they protesting because it soothes a collective conscience? Are they trying to find worth within a community or relevance? I have learnt this week that participation in a movement has to be rooted in a commitment to stop the injustice – not simply proving, in a hot take, that you oppose it.
The idea that everyone can have a take sounds democratic. But upon closer inspection, there is a power hierarchy within it. We know in our world that platforms are skewed towards the hegemony and that some opinions count for more in our society. Before I open my big mouth to contribute what would have been a half-baked take on intersectional feminism, I needed to check myself.
Having privilege certainly doesn’t disqualify one from speaking out on important issues. Anything but. However, I believe the best way to support causes that do not directly affect me is by demonstrating solidarity without spearheading it with the force of my take.
In this space of hot takes I felt, with the exception of having a conversation about privilege, I had very little to offer you, reader. Even if I could not offer Debate much in terms of hot content, I learnt a lot of hot goss about my own privilege. I learnt that speaking out should come from a place of empathy rather than obligation. I’ve tried here to check myself before I wreck myself and now, I’m gonna zip it. X