Archive for March 13th, 2024

March 13th, 2024

Silenced No More

Much as the term “flatten” has some new (and challenging) currency of late, so too has the concept of being “silenced,” as a quick search of art-world news demonstrates. But if you live in the United States, please do not say you are being silenced. Unless, of course, you are being actively prosecuted for your utterances by some local, state, or federal authority, in which case you are in that rare category. 

Claiming you are being silenced in a society as free as ours devalues those who really are being silenced. For example: Alexei Navalny, the late Russian opposition leader, killed to prevent him from further rabble-rousing against Putin’s regime. Or: the American satirist and playwright living in Germany, prosecuted because of a (satirical) use of a banned symbol to make a point, as satire is intended to do. Or: the publisher of Apple Daily, in Hong Kong, arrested on “national security” charges by the Chinese government in order to shut down his pro-democracy newspaper. Or: the dissident blogger in Shanghai, who was sentenced to seven years in prison—for the kind of speech that Americans take for granted. (Indeed, for anyone concerned about the silencing of viewpoints, including of Chinese expats in the U.S., the reports of Chinese repression are many, varied, and consistent.)

However, for those of us in the United States…

If you have access to social media, you are not being silenced. If you have access to platforms like this one—websites, blogs, etc.—you are not being silenced.

If you have access to social media or websites and choose not to post, you might be self-censoring, but that is not the same thing as being silenced. If you choose not to post because you are concerned that sharing your views may have consequences—for your job, or how your colleagues, friends, or family feel about you—that does not mean you are being silenced. It means you have weighed the risks and decided the potential consequences outweigh the benefits.

If your employer declines to share a message—internally or externally—about something you believe, you are not being silenced. Your employer may have different views, either on the substance of the message or on the appropriateness of them sharing it for you, or both. That does not mean you have been silenced.

If your message—literally your message, a quote from you, with your name attached to it—winds up in press coverage about the issue of your concern, then you have not been silenced. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Are there Americans who are being silenced? It’s likely, no doubt. But if you are not incarcerated, and you are able to stand on a corner and speak, or join a protest or picket line and carry a sign, or post to the internet, or to see yourself or your friends and your messages reflected in some piece of news coverage: you are not being silenced. You are being heard.

Whether people agree with what you have to say is an entirely different matter. Whether they acquiesce to your demands is also a different issue. And, again: just because they may not agree with you does not mean you are being silenced. In fact, fighting against silencing means protecting dissenting views—even the ones you disagree with.