The history of silence as effective protest

To the Editor:

The use of silence as a form of protest has had a long history in the African-American experience. One of the most famous silent Black protests took place inÊNew York on July 18, 1917, when 8,000 African AmericansÊmarched silently down Fifth Avenue. Journalists reported, “They marched without uttering one word or making a single gesticulation and protested in respectful silence against the reign of mob law, segregation, ‘Jim Crowism’ and many other indignities to which the race is unnecessarily subjected in the United States.” This was the exact purpose of our protest. Yale students’ of color use of silence to protest in support of affirmative action was not arbitrary and has a significant historical context.

Wearing the color of black or white has also been a tradition in protest history. In early 20th century forms of protest, African-Americans wore all white to symbolize peace and nonviolence. Younger and more revolutionary demonstrators such as the Black Panthers wore the color of black to symbolize solidarity and direct action.

It is one thing to disagree with our cause to support affirmative action. It is quite another to be blatantly disrespectful towards it. Our silence does not suggest that students of color would not be here without affirmative action. It confirms it. No, we would not be here without it. As evidenced by the slanderous and racist responses of white students to our protesting, it is clear that our presence on this campus is not desired. Our right to exist on this campus will only be enforced if the laws demand our presence.

Shelita M. Stewart ’04

April 2, 2003

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