“I won’t be served by that woman!” The whispers of dissent coming from my grandfather grew into a proclamation. You see, my grandparents were up from the south and my family had decided to take them out to dinner. With them, there’s lots of sweet tea, sugar-coated insults and racism. The declaration was regarding “That colored woman” that was our waitress, who handled the situation well and kept her composure. My grandfather muttered under his breath about her being inferior because of her skin. I sat still in my seat, my anger holding me there like an anchor as my grandmother said, “It’s ok dear. She’s serving you, so why does it matter? Your shouting is embarrassing.” His shouting didn’t bother me. It was what was shouted that was the problem. My mother kicked me under the table and told me not to say anything I may later regret. I doubted I’d regret telling my grandfather what an error he had made. I sat in silence restrained by etiquette while he sat in ignorance, not knowing he just breached the very thing that restrained me. I didn’t want to be like him- shouting what I believe. But to this day, I look back on that dinner and wish I had said something. I let my mother’s kick under the table and simple etiquette stop me from saying, what I believe, should have been said. From that day on I vowed to never again let myself be silenced.
Not long after this, my best friend told me that she attempted suicide. She pleaded with me not to tell anyone, but how could I not? She needed help and I couldn’t give it to her. Neither could her mother. I found out that every day my friend would go home and sit alone, ignored in deafening silence. Her mother called me telling me not to go to anyone about this “problem”. She said she wanted to handle it personally, but I knew that she would become more distant, embarrassed by the blemish on her life that was her daughter. She threatened to tell my mother lies about me if I told anyone. As I thought about this and how I’d be punished, I remembered my grandfather. I remembered that feeling of shame when I had the opportunity to speak up and didn’t. I knew then that I had to tell someone who could help, and that whatever my friend’s mother could do would be nothing compared to the grief that I would feel from the devastating news that my friend was successful in ending her life. I would’ve had to live knowing that I was too cowardly to speak, knowing that I let her mother bully me.
This has taught me that there are times when doing the right thing and rising against what others believe will seem impossible. But you must. Sometimes, when there is more opposition to your speaking out, the results are that much more powerful. So I ask you to take it upon yourself to be vocal. Do not be afraid of your opinions and your voice. Embolden yourself with the knowledge that you have the power as a singular person to speak out and make things right.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.