Everyone looked at me.
We were riding home on the subway. I have mastered the art of getting on and getting backed into space in the short time the train is stopped at the station. I'm proud of this, it took work to learn. Joe was sitting across from me and we were quietly riding home. A mother and two children were sitting on the bench beside Joe. The little girl was pointing up at the subway map which was over my head just above the door.
They were counting the number of stops that they had to ride to get to the destination. It's the kind of things that kids like to do. Ruby, and now Sadie, loves to count things. I enjoyed their enthusasm with numbers and with counting. Then the little girl said that she wanted to get off at 'that' stop. Mother couldn't figure which one she was pointing to and was trying to get the little girl to tell her the letter that the stop name started with. The child was having none of it.
'Honey, I don't know which one you are pointing too.'
'That one there!!!'
'What letter does the word start with?'
'That one. The CRIPPLED one.'
'The one with the CRIPPLED MAN on it.'
This went on for some time. The word CRIPPLED echoing through the subway car. Everyone seemed affected by it but the mother. I could feel the discomfort in the subway car. I could feel eyes NOT looking at me. I watched the mother. I watched the child. I waited for the mother to suggest to her child that maybe that isn't the best word to use. But Mother stayed focussed on trying to figure out where her daughter was pointing. Her inability to 'get it' frustrated the child and the word CRIPPLED was said over and over and over again.
And I made a decision.
The responsibility to say something isn't solely mine. I could see the discomfort of all on the train. I didn't know, of course, if they were uncomfortable with the word BECAUSE I was there, or if they would have been uncomfortable even if I wasn't there. But, that discomfort made everyone equally responsible. Should only black people have the responsibility to speak up if someone on a subway car uses hostile language about race? Should only gay people have the responsiblity to speak up if someone on a subway care uses hostile language about sexuality? I think not. I really, really, think not.
So I decided NOT to do or say anything.
I didn't like being made responsible by default.
I hoped my inaction would spur someone to say something. The tension needed to break, people were mortified, people were disturbed, people seemed to want to teleport out of there. But no one said anything.
Not one person.
Not even me.
Because, I beleive that sometimes my silence is more powerful than my voice. Sometimes I think I need to shift responsibility over. Sometimes, in all honesty, I just don't feel like being 'the one' who says 'hey, maybe you want to consider another word'.
What I hope happens is that someone, even just one someone, who was on that train is sitting at home thinking, 'I should have said something - next time I will.'
Silence as a form of making social change.
I don't know if it will work. But it's what I tell myself - because I want to think that I did something by not doing something. And, even if it's a lie I tell myself, it gives me a break from the constant responsiblity that comes as part of the package with being different.