Law in Contemporary Society

ONCE UPON A VOICE: Speaking my truth

The look on Uncle Agu’s face when I responded to his typically misogynistic joke with “but we all know the reason women end up with men like you is because they’ve been systematically oppressed into not knowing any better.” A taboo. An insult. How dare I speak up to a man who embodied everything that was wrong with women’s rights in Nigeria?

No longer would he praise my father for raising a “virtuous woman” or commend me for wearing ankle-length skirts; I had been banished into the underworld reserved in part for rebellious nieces who needed domestication.

I felt liberated when my parents informed me of our migration to Canada. Finally, I would be able to speak my truth without fear. Yet, relocating to Canada made me experience an even greater terror. I feared to accept the intersections of my identity. My freedom from the underworld was no longer contingent on my ability to rear children and boil rice; I now had to talk like I was singing, wear my hair straight, and continually smile so I wouldn’t be considered “angry” or “black” or “woman.” Alas, I found myself being exactly those - a woman, a black woman, an immigrant black woman.

I was accustomed to being a member of the underworld; in Nigeria, I saw blatant injustice and refused to ignore it. Yet, moving to North America, I found myself unable to speak on any of the other identities I embodied. After all, what did I know about racism? I grew up in a country where everyone was black. How could I comment on racial injustice when I hadn’t lived as an African American in America? I was the descendant of African parents, born in America, but I was not African American … That, I was constantly reminded of.

Cowardly, I decided to become silent as Uncle Agu hoped I would. I convinced myself that my accent and not my voice would be heard.

ACKNOWLEDGING SILENCE: Silencing my truth, giving acquiescence to injustice

Injustice doesn’t care about race, gender, or ethnicity. Injustice banishes all who speak into the underworld. Martin Luther King Jr. saw this reality and used his platform to advocate not just for racial equality but equality across borders. “Injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere.” If we looked past our hegemonic standpoint and into the history of civilization, we would recognize that the we’re the Hutu’s that mass murdered Tutsi’s, the Kony’s that gave children guns, the Al Shabaab’s that threw stones at women. Our silence enabled injustice.

Equality before many laws is legal fiction. It’s a false assumption of truth, unnatural to systems often created through oppression. The Nigerian constitution was built on colonialism. The Canadian legal system was founded on aboriginal discrimination. And America? American law was created by white males, interpreted by white males, and enforced by white males. With the backbone of many nations being oppression, silence is reprehensible.

Silence accounts for why some people insist there is current equality in America. Martin Luther King, Jr. was perhaps one of the few who understood the antithesis between fantasies and realities. Brutality disguised with sophisticated procedures and complex terminologies doesn’t negate inimical impacts on minorities. The reality is that black people are unequal recipients of police brutality, death penalty sentencing, and mass incarceration in America. Silence keeps these injustices guised under democracy. Silence reifies, giving acquiescence to injustice. Silence drowns voices that need to be heard.

REFUSING TO BE SILENT: Knowing my truth

To be a silent member of the underworld, silently angry about the killing of Trayvon Martin, silently disgusted about Trump’s muslim ban, and silently pondering about Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, is to effectively revoke my membership in the movement for justice.

I didn’t experience police brutality and don’t have ancestors who were slaves but I’m still inherently part of a system that makes false assumptions based on my national origin and color. Nigerian. Black. In Nigeria, I am a woman, in North America, I am an immigrant black woman (apparently from a shit-hole country too). My experiences oblige me to speak on issues I identify with and support others as they speak about their injustices.

REMAINING SILENT: Perfecting my truth

How straightforward is 'speaking up’ in practice? Confronting our identities is simple - they just need to be pointed out to us. Supporting social movements like March for Our Lives is easy; I myself throw fists in the air when I listen to speeches by Barack Obama or Chimamanda Adichie. We know we should resist becoming passive cover girls for diversity quotas. We know we shouldn’t forget why we came to law school: to embrace the force that we are, marching on hills with tightened fists and negotiating in houses with comprehensive lists. We know this. I know this.

However, perfectionism keeps me silent. It’s aggravating that until my words seem compelling and my actions appear formidable, I ruminate in silence, awaiting the perfect time to be heard. I calculate and overanalyze my truth as though it must look a certain way; as though it must talk like it’s singing, wear its hair straight, and continually smile. I know my silence speaks, it is action in itself. Yet, here I am. Sitting in class, silent once again.

Is there a difference between silence due to fearing one’s identity and silence due to perfectionism? The ultimate tragedy after all, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “is not oppression and cruelty by bad people but the silence over that by good people.”

I know the problem but how do I fix it? How do I deal with my ambivalence? How do I return to the years when I didn’t care about Uncle Agu’s reaction to my stance on misogyny? These are the years where my choices really matter and choosing silence is insulting to the woman that I can be. I know the problem but how do I fix it?


Webs Webs

r5 - 24 Apr 2018 - 22:28:25 - VanessaAjagu
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