On Silence

Julia Mai

“Peace — that’s the white man’s word. Liberation is our word.” —Kwame True

The first essay I wrote — and subsequently deleted — about Palestine was in mid-October and I titled it PEACE. (In hindsight, as my 9 year old would say: CRINGE.)

In one of my posts calling for the protection of Palestinian children, I had a slide that said: “If you need to choose between justice and peace, choose peace.”

I deleted that slide.

I initially had a deeply anemic understanding of Palestine. I only knew what American media and propaganda wanted me to know. The same reasoning behind why I only stopped celebrating Thanksgiving a couple years ago. Like a good little patriotic zombie, when it came to anything “political,” I blindly believed what I was taught. 

It’s effortless to do this in this country. We are indoctrinated from childhood, when we don’t yet know to question systems. For people of the global majority, immigrants, or children of abuse, we especially are made to feel like we must stay silent. It was only in a recent conversation with Yumi that I realized reciting the Pledge of Allegiance daily in school was a form of brainwashing. 

An indivisible nation with liberty and justice for all. Sure, that sounds great in theory. But these words have never reflected reality in this country… not when they were written in 1892 and still not today. 

Having these words drilled into our developing minds planted the seed of the false narrative of America the Great, land of the free. 

I wonder if because my parents don’t have roots in this country, it’s been easier for me to see and accept the lies. My indoctrination was never reinforced at home as far as patriotism or the supremacy of whiteness. In fact, there was always a noticeable disconnect between my home life and my outside-of-home life. I used to feel broken by this, a sense of internal discord. But now I think it may have protected me from being too deeply entangled in the propaganda. 

Admittedly, I was grossly uninformed about Israel’s occupation of Palestine. On the morning of October 8, I woke up to messages and headlines about a terrorist attack. My conditioning kicked in: terrorists are bad. Simple, right?

I looked to the social justice activists that I follow, that were previously primarily posting in solidarity with movements such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. They were all saying #freepalestine. I didn’t understand. Were all these activists that I look to and learn from antisemitic?! 

I literally did not know what Zionism was. Didn’t Bob Marley sing about it and wasn’t he for One Love?

So I started reading. I listened deeply to historians and humanitarians. I applied my own critical thinking skills and my ever present understanding of systemic oppression. I am not antisemitic or Islamaphobic or anti-Arab so I don’t have layers of hate and bias to sift through to get to the truth. And you just know when you come upon truth; there is steady resonance.

Maybe it was the familiarity of realizing we US Americans had been lied to about Thanksgiving. Maybe it was the cellular memory of a once occupied and presently divided Korea. Maybe I had had enough practice calling out white supremacy through the telling of Asian stories as my contribution to the collective fight for racial justice. 

Whatever the reasoning, even before I started seeing the photos and videos of dead babies, children, and innocent civilians, I understood. I understood that what was happening was horrific and unjustifiable. 

And yet I struggled to speak up. I initially simply re-shared posts that were neutral and calling for peace. I was afraid to offend friends, I was not confident in my ability to debate people, and I didn't want to unknowingly be antisemitic. I caved to “good faith arguments” and felt obliged to delete a post where I had mentioned the number of Palestinians killed (can’t trust those numbers, I was told) and avoided saying Ceasefire because I was told that meant I didn’t care about Israeli lives and that I couldn’t understand the history since I hadn’t been to the region. 

Ultimately, and thankfully for the sake of my own integrity, I found my words — as a mother: The killing of children is unjustifiable. SIMPLE.

As time carries on (Day 141 and counting), I have become aware of a stark contrast between how I am trying to use my time, energy, platform, and privilege and the silence of so many. From conversations where I am told that “we can’t do anything about what’s happening so don’t think about it so much” to lamenting statements about how complicated, how nuanced, how dysregulated their own nervous systems are to displays of belligerently willful ignorance, I am regularly disappointed by people who I know are better.

I don’t understand my fellow Asians who don’t see themselves in what is happening. Aside from the fact that Palestine is literally on the continent of Asia, haven’t we learned yet that none of us are free until all of us are free? 

And for those of us in the mental health space. How can you carry on business as usual when your expert voices are needed, not just to demand the protection of the mental health of an entire population under attack but to support those of us bearing witness to genocide? Where are your voices when your loved ones and followers need your guidance? 

I think the hardest for me though are those in the yoga/wellness world. How can you say NAMASTE — the claim that the light in you sees the light in everyone else — and be silent during genocide? In October/November, sure, okay, I can give all of us the grace of needing time to educate ourselves, though it was at the unforgivable loss of so many innocent Palestinian lives. But at this point? I can no longer find any rationale except that you care about your own comfort, convenience, business, and privilege over that of the collective.

And what is most disturbing for me personally is that my heart has been open to you. I let you in. I believed you. It makes me question what I allowed into my psyche all these years.

Because what I am seeing in people straddling the fence of genocide while talking about peace and love is extremely dangerous. In your refusal to speak the truth, you are setting the example to those that follow you, to choose niceness and platitudes and a self-centered “spiritual” practice over standing up for innocent people literally being massacred, why? Is it because they don’t look like you, speak your language, eat your food, worship your god or goddess? 

You are captivating and influential human beings with meaningful platforms. I believe in the good in you, but I also know we all have blind spots we have to wake up to and face. I have been the good little yogi who was all about manifesting love and light. I was legitimately convinced that if I allowed myself to only visualize a blissful birth, I would make it be so. (Not true. I ended up having a traumatic, emergency c-section and my baby got sent to NICU.) (This was almost a decade ago; everyone is, thankfully, fine.) I have been the good little model minority, fearing confrontation and further ostracism, desperately wanting to be accepted by the cool — usually white — crowds. 

I’ve come to realize that all any of this ever achieved was my upholding of the very system of oppression I was under! 

The laws of white supremacy have traded you the comforts of privilege for complicity — in genocide. You think you are free but are you, really? When the government and mainstream media continues to blatantly lie? When free speech is being censored? 

Systemic oppression actually applies to every single one of us, regardless of race. It does not only harm people of color. Just like what is happening in the many genocides around the world is not only relevant to those people over there. Yogis, you know this! We are all one. We are all connected. 

On a very logical level, what do you think all of these countries being harmed by the US are going to want to do in the future?! Do you actually think that what is happening is keeping us safe in the long run? Hasn’t our government proven over and over again that our safety as citizens — be it protection from gun violence or infrastructure including basic healthcare — does not matter? They wants us feeling afraid and powerless, they want us stressed and unwell — we’re more controllable that way. 

Our perceived lack of agency is precisely what enables the powers that be to be. Our hyperfixation on individual wins is what keeps us divided. The fact that we are called the United States is the greatest irony. Yet another part of the brainwashing.

And on a psychological/emotional level, I think that a lot of the nervous system dysregulation or stress or overwhelm that you feel has to do with the dissonance coming from the shame of knowing what the right thing to do is and continuing to selfishly choose your own comforts. It is beyond comprehension, witnessing mass murder and brutality, the destruction of land, the erasure of an entire people. But to know that it is happening and to try to deny the wrongness or very existence of it — that’s a poison you’re putting into yourself. 

Of course peace, love, and light are the goal. But you cannot bypass your way there and it is irresponsible to teach otherwise. The process will demand your discomfort, accountability, humility, and a de-centering of self. But the reward is truth. And the truth will liberate us all.  
I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

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