I am not the voice of the voiceless. (And neither are you.)
I’m sorry if that doesn’t sit well with some of you, but it needs to be said.
The “voice of the voiceless”… I keep hearing this expression. It seems to have taken on legs and now walks around inflating the egos of the privileged and often self-appointed voice boxes- drawing attention to those “fighting for justice,” and stealing attention away from those they claim to serve.
Okay, perhaps if you work for PETA or ASPCA I could get behind said moniker… because unlike humans, animals cannot speak. But humans can indeed – people are not voiceless. Each human has a voice, but sadly, many who would love to use theirs have been silenced.
Silenced by broken systems, abuse, and oppression.
Silenced by the way they have been dismissed and overlooked because of the color of their skin, their gender, their social class, or some other less than desirable characteristic shunned by society at large.
Silenced by fear.
Silenced by exhaustion as some simply got tired of their desperate pleas falling on deaf ears of the elected.
But they are not voiceless.
I spend a good portion of my life walking beside homeless and formerly homeless people and yes, I do speak out on their behalf, because whatever the different reasons may be (accessibility, vague understanding of both worlds, college-bred ability to articulate my words onto paper), my voice is heard louder. But the reality is, everything I am saying I learned from my friends who have been there or are there now.
I have never been homeless, in fact, I’ve never even come close. I know far more what it’s like to live in affluent neighborhoods than I do on the street or in my car. But I listen and take notes and do my best to hear what I am being told and then yes, I speak out. And I am proud and honored to do so.
I absolutely love writing about this community that I have been lucky enough to be invited into, and I love, love, love hearing others’ stories of truth and justice in return. But, in the same way that I am not your voice, I am not theirs either — they are. I am simply groomed (err, sorta) and have been trained by the world as to what my place is…and so have they. The difference is, many marginalized and disenfranchised people have been conditioned to believe that their voice is less powerful, less worthy, or less pleasing.
Please know, I am guilty of this too. I am not pointing the finger here without knowing full well that one (or several) are pointing back at me. I devour books about poverty written by those who don’t know it, and I fall all over myself when I brush shoulders with my literary and activist heroes; only to turn around and dismiss the man in line at the store who is taking forever and rambling on and on and on, wasting my oh-so-precious time.
I’m in a hurry.
Does he not know that I am in a hurry?
He is not voiceless – but perhaps I am listenless.
This is not some self-righteous plea asking you to stop reading my words or writing your own, in fact, I hope you don’t. There is power in storytelling and hearing different accounts from different lenses and there is absolutely a time and place for advocacy and that is my heart’s desire; to speak up for my friends, not as their voice, but rather be my voice on their behalf, as they learn to reclaim their own.