Using My Voice: Standing Up and Speaking Out Even When It's Hard
Since April 2014, when the We Need Diverse Books campaign became a thing, I’ve paid attention more and more to representations of diversity of all kinds in books and other media. It might sound strange, but I didn’t realize how much I was missing diversity in what I was reading and watching on tv and in movies until then. All of a sudden, I saw everything in color instead of grayscale.
It wasn’t until I went to a session on "Finding Diverse Lit for Diverse YA Readers" in support of the We Need Diverse Books campaign led by Cindy Minnich and Sarah Anderson at Nerdcamp in July of 2014 that I realized how much I needed WNDB myself. I wrote about the experience here, how I felt physically ill because I wasn’t sure how the conversation was going to go and how overwhelmed I was to be in a room of people who understood.
To be honest, the We Need Diverse Books campaign helped me look more closely at my own identity. I spent March of 2015 blogging everyday and realizing how important it is for me to tell my story. If you’re interested in reading about my exploration of my identity, this post links to all my posts from that month.
Since then, I’ve used my voice more and more to speak out about the importance of diversity in books and other media and about the importance of having discussions about race and culture. I’m still getting used to this voice of mine, still learning to trusting it and strengthening my message.
I put it to the test recently when I spoke out against something very important to me. I wish I could be more specific but at this point, I’m choosing not to call attention to the issue and instead, share what it felt like to use my voice.
I went through a range of emotions and as I processed the whole situation, I found that Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album (that I loved back in the 90's) helped me understand what I was feeling. In listening to Tracy’s lyrics, I didn’t feel so alone and I found strength to persevere.
Speaking out and asking people to look more closely at themselves and to reflect on their cultural competence was hard. It meant taking a risk. Being vulnerable. Facing the unknown. But I did it anyway. Here’s a glimpse of what I felt.
Talkin' Bout a Revolution
Don't you know
They're talkin' 'bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what's theirs
When I found out about the situation that was happening, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I realized I needed to speak out. It was time for me to say something. The strength to speak out started to grow.
You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way
I had options. I could let it go and not express my opinion. That would be easiest. Running away was an option too. I could just move. That would be hard to do but it sounded great, just leave everything behind and forget the people who couldn’t see my point. But at the same time, I knew it was time to use my voice. Because if I didn't at least try, of course nothing would change.
Across the Lines
Across the lines
Who would dare to go
Under the bridge
Over the tracks
That separates whites from blacks
Run for your life
Tonight the riots begin
On the back streets of America
They kill the dream of America
I made a choice. I decided to stand up. I wasn’t sure if anyone else was speaking up, sharing their voice, their perspective but I was going to and I was ready. I felt too strongly to not say anything, ignoring it wasn't an option, and running away from the problem wasn't going to work either.
This is where it became real though. I wasn’t sure what the consequences of standing up and speaking out would be. I could imagine, and I did imagine, all sorts of scenarios. It was scary. But I was determined to do it anyway.
Behind the Wall
Last night I heard the screaming
Loud voices behind the wall
Another sleepless night for me
It won't do no good to call
The police always come late
If they come at all
The reality: No one heard me. No one understood my point. No one saw my perspective. Or if they did, no one came to my side. No one stood by me. I was in it alone.
Baby Can I Hold You
But you can say baby
Baby can I hold you tonight
Maybe if I told you the right words
At the right time you'd be mine
It was hard to keep going when I felt alone and invisible. I hoped for someone to see me so I would feel real again. Anyone. And then there was someone who saw me. Another person was also appalled by the situation. Just when it felt like I didn’t exist, one person saw me. And if one person could see me, it was enough to keep going.
Mountains o' Things
Oh they tell me
There's still time to save my soul
They tell me
Renounce all those material things you gained by
Exploiting other human beings
I thought of all the things I would give up. All the things I thought were important. I wouldn’t worry about anything else if they could just see how seriously problematic this one thing was.
Nothing else mattered.
She's Got Her Ticket
She's got her ticket
I think she gonna use it
I think she going to fly away
No one should try and stop her
Persuade her with their power
She says that her mind is made up
Why not leave why not
Too much hatred
Corruption and greed
Give your life
And invariably they leave you with
I was willing to give up so much but still, no one was listening, I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was done. Spent. Exhausted. Emotionally hollow. I needed a break. I shut down, closed myself off, slept.
Love is hate
War is peace
No is yes
And we're all free
When I woke up, I was mad. None of it made sense. How could people pretend to care about some things when they didn’t about this? Everyone was a hypocrite. Every smile fake. Every promise empty. I lost trust in a lot of people.
For My Lover
And everybody thinks
That I'm the fool
But they don't get
Any love from you
The things we won't do for love
I'd climb a mountain if I had to
And risk my life so I could have you
You, you, you...
I wish I didn't, but I still cared. Was I overreacting? Making a mountain out of a molehill? No one understood. I was weary and not sure who to trust but I was determined to keep going, knowing that I needed to advocate for what I felt was right.
If Not Now...
If not now then when
If now today then
Why make your promises
A love declared for days to come
Is as good as none
Somehow, I felt hope. I had been through so many emotions and even after it all, I believed change had to happen. I tried again. My resolve was deeper than ever and I was steadfast. I could stay the course.
There're no words to say
No words to convey
This feeling inside I have for you
Deep in my heart
Save from the guards
Of intellect and reason
Leaving me at a loss
For words to express my feelings
Deep in my heart
Look at me losing control
Thinking I had a hold
But with feelings this strong
I'm no longer the master
Of my emotions
Just when I thought I had felt every emotion possible...I got to the point where someone else saw me. My heart was buoyed up by their belief. After all this time, someone saw me and my perspective. My emotions were all over the place. It was a sense of gratitude and knowing that it was worth it because I was able to encourage one person to think more carefully about how serious the situation was.
But at the same time I put so much energy into making a difference and I didn’t feel like I had gotten very far. In some ways, I felt like a ghost. As much as I tried to get people to see me and pleaded for them to listen, so many didn’t. Now I’m at the point where I have to decide if I keep trying. Do I keep looking for others who can see me? Or since my voice has been stifled and silenced time and time again, do I give up? Is it worth it to go on?
Standing up and speaking out was not easy. It was scary and isolating.
It’s emotionally draining to want to impact change so badly and not be able to make it happen. I’ve realized that I have to expand my timeline, reassess the steps it's going to take, and figure out how to reinvigorate my belief that change can happen. Even though I want to move mountains, I have to accept that sometimes a teeny shift in the right direction is all I’m going to get.
If this had happened back in 2014 before I had started to unpack my own identity and to look critically at how people are represented in books and the media around me, I’m not sure I would have felt the need to speak up. I hope I would have taken issue with the situation but I can’t say for certain that I would have seen how important it was to bring attention to it as I did.
I’m thankful for experiences that have helped me look more critically at books and media and for people who have helped me find my voice. I hope that by sharing my story others will look more closely at their lives and find their voice to speak out and stand up when they have the chance. I can’t promise it will be easy but I do know it will be worth it.