Qui tacet consentit. “Through silence, consent.” A colleague of mine posted this phrase on social media today after I had just hit send on an email that hurt my stomach to write. It’s a phrase I’ve been talking about for a while, and something that is especially poignant right now.
You know, it used to be, if you said nothing then you were silently, tacitly giving your approval. But now, even more than ever, it’s become if you *do* nothing you are approving. And there are so many things I can’t approve of right now.
Last year, when I began writing and doing school visits as my full-time means of income I knew it was going to be tricky. I need every contract, every school visit, every skype visit, every freelance job I can get. This allows me to pay rent, to buy groceries for my three kids, to pay exorbitant health insurance costs through the exchange (that thank goodness doesn’t punish me for having pre-existing conditions). I survive because I write. In so many ways.
What this means, though, is that I can’t turn down work. Usually, that isn’t a problem. But now — I have had to make a decision. Do I say no to a paying school visit – do I risk the rent and the groceries and the health insurance payments – because I need to take a principled stand? Do I risk being seen as a zealot who is actually punishing students instead of a careless school district administration? Couldn’t I do more good in the world if I just took the money, spoke to the students, hoped to enlighten them, and then moved on?
Now more than ever, the answer to all of those questions HAS to be… I DO risk the rent. I am NOT a zealot. I AM doing good. Because qui tacet consentit. Through silence, consent. It used to be that you could raise your fist, be angry, and then go about your day. You could say, “Oh, Grandpa is a racist because he’s too old to change his ways.” You could say “Cousin Jane is a homophobe because she doesn’t know any better. What should I bring for Thanksgiving?” You would shake your head and say, “My boss is such a sexist, but that’s how the world works, and I need to get paid, right?” and you would carry on. But now? Now I am sick and tired of carrying on. Carrying on is tacit approval. Tacit approval lets the systemic poison burble happily along, splitting into more and more smoking veins of hatred until there are boiling calderas under every city, every school, every house.
It is not OK.
Last week, a small branding company in Austin, TX stood up to the entire Texas Department of Agriculture. The woman-owned business said they would no longer contract with the Ag Dept after the commissioner tweeted a profane insult aimed at Hillary Clinton. The Ag Commissioner responded by saying (this is paraphrased), “Why would they punch themselves in the face to punish me? That doesn’t sound like smart business.” What he misunderstood was they aren’t trying to punish him. They are taking a stand. They are risking their business by saying, “Hey. Enough. Maybe you’re our biggest client. Maybe we get most of our income from you. But you know what? You’re a disgusting man who doesn’t deserve the service we provide you. We’re out.”
Do you realize how often this *doesn’t* happen? How many businesses and professionals, vendors and employees are afraid to do something like this? How they are trapped by powerful people who feel like they have free reign to be terrible (because they have had free reign)? Can you imagine what might happen if this kind of stand-taking happened more often? If rather than silent, resigned complicity, everyone said, simply, “No. This is not OK.”?
Today I sent a “No, it’s not OK” email. I made the choice to not get paid, so that I could make an important point. I chose not to be silent. I chose not to be complicit. Last summer the Round Rock school district made a choice to silence an author who was teaching students love and empathy and kindness and acceptance. The district didn’t like the message of acceptance, and effectively banned the author. They worked to gaslight him, and everyone, by stating a different reason for uninviting him, but those of us who have been discriminated against know the pattern. And those of us who know the author, know he is telling the truth. And so, in solidarity with Phil, I said no to Round Rock. It devastates me to miss out on speaking to so many children, to not be able to give my own message of love and empathy and kindness and acceptance. But if I go to the district, and I take their money, and I agree to speak on what they want me to speak about, then I am, ironically, being silent. And I will not be silent anymore.
You can read my letter below. I hope that everyone else will choose to not be silent anymore, too. Whether it has to do with school visits, or sexist bosses, or throwaway racist jokes, or or or or…. Please, no more qui tacet consentit.