I was standing outside my mom’s office when I noticed a young boy coming toward me. His eyes widened as he caught a glimpse of my right hand. Before I could even attempt to cover up my hands, the boy started screaming and running away from me. As I listened to his screams and held back tears, I reminded myself to “keep it together.”
Just a few days later, my mom, younger sister, and I went shoe shopping. As I walked through the store, two girls started following me. Every time I turned around, the teenagers were pretending to look at shoes behind me. I finally decided to confront the girls, but when I turned around, I was speechless. The two girls were standing behind me with a cellphone camera pointed toward me. They had followed me around the store so that they could take photos of my hands. Once again, I told myself to “keep it together” as I asked my mom and sister if we could go home.
How did I actually “keep it together” during both of those incidents? I had been practicing the art of “keeping it together” for 18 years. I learned to silently endure excruciating incidents without responding. I was afraid to speak up because I didn’t think anyone would listen to me. I assumed these types of incidents were not “bad enough” to be considered discriminatory. I thought people would overlook these painful stories or sweep them under the rug. I chose to remain silent because I assumed I needed to simply endure the mistreatment.
But I was wrong. I recently realized silence does not effectively fight mistreatment. “Keeping it together” does not put an end to these excruciating incidents. If silence is not solving the problem, then perhaps it’s time for me to speak up and tell these stories. Why? These stories should remind us to look beyond someone’s appearance. These incidents ought to teach us the importance of valuing and respecting each person we meet. These situations must encourage us to speak up for those who are silently suffering.
If I could go back in time and give little Lindsey one piece of advice, I’d tell her the same thing I’m telling all of us now: Speak up. Your voice matters.