As Silence Cries Out, Will the White Race Listen?
Understanding Injustice Through the Absence of Sound
As a physician, I will never get used to the eerie absence of sound upon death in the human body. Placing a stethoscope atop the chest of one who has passed is haunting. Where there was once lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub from the heart echoing within the chest, there is now silence. Where there were once the breezy whispers of air filling and emptying the lungs, there is now stillness. While sound is confirmation of life, absence of it, is confirmation of death.
If only for a short moment we paused and listened to what this silence has to share with us, perhaps we would hear it crying out, desperate for our attention.
Scene: A simple home surrounded by fields with a single dirt path leading to a porch.
In the middle of the night a fourteen-year-old boy is taken from the bed where he sleeps by two men. He is thrown into a truck. Despite driving for hours, just as the dawn breaks, they stop a spot just a couple miles away from where he was taken. In the background is a river. Can you hear the gentle sound of the water as it moves between the banks, over the rocks?
The boy is instructed to carry a seventy-five pound fan from the truck to the edge of the embankment. He does what he is told but he is exhausted. Can you hear the rapid respirations leaving his mouth? He is then pistol- whipped. Can you hear the sound of the gun’s barrel striking his soft flesh? Pop! His body is struck. Thud. His body falls to the ground. Blood pours out of it. Drip. Drip. Drip. Can you hear it? And then, splash, the seventy-five pound fan attached to his lifeless body hits water. And then...
From Emmett Till, there is now an absence of sound.
Scene: A suburban neighborhood with large homes, green lawns.
In the middle of the day, a young man sits down on the edge of his bed to lace up his running shoes. He stands and lifts one leg at a time, flexing at the knee. Can you hear the creaking as his joints pop? He steps outside his home, the door softly closing behind him. He takes a deep breath; off he goes. The sound of his shoes coming in contact with the pavement is rhythmic. Thump-thump-thump. Can you hear it? It’s like the beat of a drum.
The sun shines down while a soft breeze sweeps past his body from time to time. He runs for sport and his heart accelerates. Can you hear it, the rapid progression of this young man’s beating heart? A truck pulls ahead. The brakes squeak. Can you hear them? Can you hear as the rhythmic beating of the young man’s stride becomes dysrhythmic, unpredictable? Thump-thump….thump-thump-thump...thump….thump-thump...thump… It loses its organization. And then, Pop! Pop! Pop! Can you hear the high- pitched ringing that trails off as the bullets exit their gun? Can you hear the young man’s body hit the ground? Thud. And then...
From Ahmaud Arbery there is now an absence of sound.
Scene: A busy commercial district in a big city.
In the early evening, three friends walk into a convenience store. They attempt to purchase a couple items but there is some confusion. They are asked to leave. They go back into their car and sit. They chat. Can you hear the easy banter of three friends? The conversation abruptly ends when a sound comes from the driver’s-side car window. Bang. Bang. Bang. Can you hear as a fist strikes the glass? A police officer pulls the driver out of the vehicle though it is unclear why. For several minutes this man and the police officer speak. Life continues all around them. Can you hear the sound of the vehicles passing by? Can you hear the voices of city-dwellers walking the sidewalks beside them?
And suddenly, there is another sound. A distressed cry of “I can’t breathe,” followed by, "MAMA." Can you hear it? The sounds of a panicked son so desperate for his mama. Can you hear the sound of this man slowly dying unjustly in the middle of a city, on the side of a road, in plain view of the public. And all by the force of one police officer's weight made heavier by the white privilege he arrogantly carries on his back. Together, their force is so great not even Superman could overcome? Can you hear it? And then…
From George Floyd there is now an absence of sound.
Yet on this day, again there is silence.
And tomorrow… what will there be?
And the next day…
So I ask you now: Do. You. Hear. It?
Do you hear the cries of what OUR silence has created? The cries that have been in existence for centuries so desperately needing to be heard?
They are the sounds of oppression.
They are the sounds of injustice.
They are the sounds of lynching.
They are the sounds of Black fathers, daughters, sons, mothers, mourning for their loved ones who have been murdered.
The battle cry telling us the absence of sound is what we must all hear loud and clear! A battle cry only those who are willing to silence the sounds of white privilege, will hear.
It has been nearly sixty-five years since the murder of Emmett Till and still the white race remains silent. Silence from our race is what led to his absence of sound.
Silence from our race is what led to Ahmaud Arbery’s absence of sound.
Silence from our race is what led to George Floyd’s absence of sound.
Silence from our race is what has led to the absence of sound in every Black life destroyed by vicious acts of racism.
We have allowed ourselves to become complacent, indifferent, unbothered. We have allowed ourselves to contribute to racism.
So may it be from this day forward, the white race say out loud, “I will no longer be silent. I will no longer contribute to the absence of sound."
For CeCe, Abigail and the ever so sweet Mr. Daniel.
A very special thank you to Dr Saira Malik Rahman for her illustration above. Be sure to follow her on Instagram by clicking the hyperlink: (@SairaMalikRahman).
Check out her other related articles by clicking on the title below:
About the author
I am a mother to four, a wife to one, and a physician to many. I like to reach others through words of advocation to give a voice to those in need. Welcome to my village where all are welcome.