“Be ignorant, be silent, be thick.” Professor, political scientist, author, Nation columnist, MSNBC host, and rising “nerdland” icon Melissa Harris-Perry addressed the members of the Wellesley Class of 2012 with this advice. Dr. Perry’s speech was humbling and made me think of taking action and speaking out against injustices in a different way.
I was especially intrigued by her advice to “be silent.” It seems contradictory to everything an activist should do, but in fact exercising the other part of your voice -the silent part- can be as powerful as speaking out . Attending an all girls’ school for a majority of my life, I have learned the importance of finding my voice. And as Dr. Perry says, it’s “about learning to speak, about speaking with confidence, about sharing your ideas freely, about battling the boys.”
However, I have also learned that there is another part to finding your voice. It is important to be silent and listen because when you have something to say it means something of value and sounds like something in comparison to the silence. There is a difference between being silenced and choosing to be silent. When we are silenced, we have something to say but no one will listen. When we choose silence over constantly voicing our thoughts and opinions, we equal the playing field by undermining the idea that only certain people have a right to speak out.
Dr. Perry encouraged the Wellesley class of 2012 to use “silence as a precursor to voice,” and I now urge all of you to think of silence not as your enemy, but as a tool for creating positive change.
Click on the link below to listen to Melissa Harris-Perry’s commencement address.