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The silence that was broken

June 4, 2021

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As scholars, we seek to understand and investigate a variety of problems facing humanity. In the classroom, despite having varying interests and backgrounds, we are afforded the freedom to express our ideas without consequence. We respect the opinions of others and expect to participate in a safe and cohesive environment. We are provided a platform where research and creativity are encouraged, and we take full pride in our contributions. In a lot of ways, we are privileged. Despite the color of our skin or affiliation, we are allowed the opportunity to break our silence. We recognize the value of academic dialogue as it enhances our critical thinking skills and empowers us to use multiple lenses, all the while realizing the depths of our capabilities. So, we put our skills to the test in the “real” world where, unfortunately, it is not always safe to do so.

Breaking our silence creates space for the development of a flourishing community. In the face of social unrest and injustice, we have an obligation to speak the truth. Brother Agathon espoused that silence is a virtue which affords a teacher the capacity to speak when need be, yet avoid talking when she/he must not. As in the case for most virtues, silence requires a level of phronesis in that we need to know when to speak and when not to. Aristotle, who drew inspiration from the Egyptian Mystery System, often refers to the philosophy of the golden mean, to find the appropriate blend between two extremes. Oftentimes, this balancing act materializes at our workplaces and community.

Virtuous silence is not the absence of speaking, it is the wisdom to know when to speak and when to hold one’s tongue. As the renowned Harlem Renaissance author, Zora Neale Hurston, once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” During blatant brutality, we must not hold our breaths, but speak truth to unearned power. In order to be virtuous, we are to acknowledge that although all women/men are created equal, they are not recognized as equal in our society.

The illusion of race has plagued America since its inception. The concept of race, as we know it, was invented to justify the enslavement of Africans. At its origin, race was a term used to describe an individual’s societal status or class. Its etymology can be traced to the Latin word Raza which means root (El-Kati, 2014). It should be noted that originally, race and ethnicity were disparate terms. With the expansion of the transatlantic slave trade, race began to metastasize into a silent, yet cretinous lie to rationalize the usurpation of natural resources and bodies from ancient Alkebulan. The 18th century witnessed a transformation from a theological to a biological justification for the enslavement of souls.

Unfortunately, even armed with scientific data, numerous pseudo scholars remained silent about the false racial categories. There were pariahs such as W.E.B. Du Bois, who spoke truth to unearned power when he stated that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line (Du Bois, 1903). Although there have been many attempts to dismantle the obdurate misconception of race, ranging from the 14th Amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, our society continues to grapple with the vestigial effects of silent indifference.

Institutions of higher learning are, by nature, designed to foster brave spaces for students and staff to engage in fruitful discourse. This discourse should aim to birth human flourishing and servant leadership. To do so effectively, we cannot be indifferent about the power of a plurality of perspectives and voices. This is particularly true for voices that have been muted due to structural racism and gender inequality. Breaking the silence in the classroom inevitably fosters community outside of the classroom, especially as many of us confront injustice. As was the case when millions of people broke their silence to propel the conviction of a former police officer who killed an unarmed black man over an alleged fake $20 bill.

This article aimed to capture the historical context of race and offer the reader an abbreviated framework by which to consider how the virtue of silence can be leveraged to promote a thriving society. As prudent scholars, we shall continue to know when to speak up and when to be quiet by challenging the status quo and rejecting obtrusive ideas violating the ethics, morals, and values adopted by our institutions.


DuBois, W. (1903). The souls of black folks. New York: Fine Creative Media.

El-Kati, M. (2014). The Myth of Race The Reality of Racism. Minnesota, Papyrus Publishing.