“Available to each one of us…is the proud honorable role of ally: the opportunity to raise hell with others like us and interrupt the cycle of oppression. Because of our very privilege, we have the potential to stir up good trouble, to challenge the status quo, and to inspire real and lasting change.”—Andrea Ayvazian
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”—Abraham Lincoln
In the summer of 1914, the editor of The Crisis, W.E.B. Dubois, received a letter from a woman seeking advice on whether to support the women’s right to vote in the coming state election.
The writer had recently attended a women’s suffrage meeting. The speaker, a white woman, was asked why the suffragettes were silent on issues like lynching, marriage laws, and other discriminatory laws and practices affecting the Black community. The response: “We have to respond to the most important subjects, we cannot bother with everything under the sun and there are so many more important things than lynching. As for marriage laws, we have to have some laws regulating marriage between races.”
In a separate article, written earlier that year, W.E.B. Dubois writes: “millions…have given no encouragement to lynching, except by silence! Except by silence! EXCEPT BY SILENCE!”
More than one hundred years later, women and minorities are still struggling to find equal footing in this country, and, unfortunately, our propensity to advocate for some rights at the expense of others still lingers.
For example, in the wake of the 2016 election, millions of people across the globe stood together, knitted pussy hats in hand, in support of women. Yet, the same solidarity is noticeably absent around immigration, mass incarceration, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Not only is it right to work toward the eradication of all oppression, it is critically important to recognize that the fight for women’s rights is undermined when we neglect to do so. In failing to meaningfully address racial justice issues, we are indifferent to the trauma of the women affected both directly and indirectly; when we turn our backs on women seeking legal immigration status, they become more susceptible to financial and social exploitation and domestic violence; when we fail to stand up for LGBTQ rights, lesbian and transgender women are similarly vulnerable.
It is not my intention to say that we must unequivocally support all the tenets associated with these causes, but it is important to acknowledge that these forms of oppression, while different, are no less vile than the lynching that marked the last century, and, therefore, we cannot be silent.
It will not be easy. For example, it is tempting to say—as is often said—“race issues will sort themselves out.” This, however, is categorically false. Just as women’s rights have not been advanced without consistent hard work, so it is for racial equality, LGBTQ rights, and the rights of the disenfranchised generally speaking.
Our struggle, not being limited to one cause or issue, is a collective one. Now that Democrats have taken control over the New York State Senate, it is particularly important not only that we recognize this, but that we write it down, send it in a letter, and sing it out loud—lest we squander this opportunity to make true, long-lasting change.