Imagine an abusive family. Imagine a family that at every opportunity does what they can to tear you down. To scream at you and tell you how everything that happens is your fault. Imagine that it gets to the point where you cut off contact with them, block them out of your life. You do this, because every time you speak it ends up with them screaming at you. It gets to the point where you are afraid to answer the phone on the off chance that it’s them. You watch every word you say or write because you worry it will somehow get back to them and trigger another fight, even if what you are saying had nothing to do with them. They look for excuses to be angry. You have to yell to be heard, but when you raise your voice, you are attacked for being too angry, for not listening, for being too aggressive. You are told to shut up and stop yelling, all the while being yelled at.
You cut them off, except cutting them off doesn’t give you any peace. They manage to get in touch with you through someone else. Someone they have convinced that they want to talk to resolve things. The person urges you to make up with them. After all family is family and it is not good to be divisive. You want to agree; you want to hope that this time finally you can have an honest discussion about everything that has gone wrong, on how their actions have made you feel. You want this to be over. You want your anxiety to end, and go back to talking about the things you both care about instead of being called names. But you also remember the last time they promised to work things out, when the dialogue ended up being nothing more than an excuse to yell at you some more. To tear you down just a little bit further. So you ask for a show of good faith; something small, but something to show that they are sincere. Or maybe something not that small, but something that has to be done for any resolution to take place. But they aren’t willing to make that sacrifice. Because it is not about resolution, it is about further abuse. It is about getting the chance to yell at you and abuse you further, but in a new location; a location, where if you don’t show up, you are accused of being the unreasonable one. It is nothing more than an attempt to get at you again; to circumvent your attempts to cut them out of your life for the sake of your health, or peace.
Abusers know how to make themselves look like the good guy. They convince everyone else that you are ungrateful, a liar. They trot out edited or incomplete versions of stories to explain how you are a troublemaker and really, they are the ones that are wounded and they are just trying to make peace for everyone’s sake. When you show other people the examples of the harmful things they’ve done to you, they insist it is out of context. They explain how it was all a misunderstanding and all you need to do is talk about it to make it all better. And there is nothing you can do, because it is physically impossible to bear your wounded heart. It is impossible to show everyone the scars that exist in unseen places; the anxiety, the depression, the despair. Even if they catch a glimpse of it, it is not the full story. Unless they have gone through the same thing, they cannot understand the pain and the hurt that comes with that kind of abuse and so they accuse you. They accuse you of being stubborn, divisive. For fairness sake, they grant that some of what might have happened to you is unfair, but they take “the middle ground”. All this, not understanding that there is no middle ground, because they compare an amputation, a fatal wound, to a paper cut and call you both equally injured.
Now instead of a family, imagine that this is a community. Imagine it is a group where you found acceptance for believing something different then everyone else. Imagine that this community talked about the persecution they faced for this common belief. They welcomed you and told you that they understood your pain. You felt so thrilled about the acceptance that you opened up. You talked about the problems you had because of your faith and they accepted you. You talked about the problems you faced because of people who denied reason and evidence and they accepted you. And then you talked about the problems that you have because of your gender identity, or your race, or your income level, and they shunned you. They shunned you and accused you of making it up. They yelled at you for being divisive when you point out how people in this very community sometimes treated you differently or badly because of things beyond your control. You think, they must have misunderstood, you don’t want to blame someone, you just wanted to offer suggestions on how to make this better. But it didn’t matter. By bringing it up, you opened the doors. They no longer saw you as one of them and so they derided you. The screamed at your and harassed you. They sent others who thought like them to harass you. They screamed at you, they spread rumours about you and insulted you. While they did this they told everyone about how you had created a division in the group. They mentioned how you were spreading untrue stories about your oppression. They called you professional victim. They covered their tracks like abusers do. They smiled their way into people’s trust. Then when you cut them off, when you finally said enough, they talked about how you were destroying the movement. They convinced people that you were looking for attention. And then you insinuated that you would be willing to make up, to “have a dialogue’, for ‘the good of the movement’.
But this isn’t about dialogue. This isn’t about the good of the movement, or healing the rift. It is a chance to further harass you. To further show you that they can push you around and out of the movement, and still have everyone stay “in the middle”. If you try to defend yourself, you are blamed for being uncooperative, while their continued attempts are shutting you up are ignored or painted as childish pranks. What used to be your source of support is instead a source of anxiety. Your life’s work is mocked and ignored. But you are forced to put up with the harassment in the interest of discussion. Any show of faith you ask for is blown out of proportion.
When you point out that despite the beautiful promises of discourse, the harassment still continues, you are accused of being unfair. The other parties all want to be “neutral”. You are asked to ignore all the spiteful, hateful, in some cases illegal things people do to you in the name of “healing and dialogue”. Maybe you were too harsh in telling people about your oppression. Maybe you didn’t have it that bad really. Maybe you did want the attention didn’t you, and maybe you exaggerated how bad things were just a little bit; for effect? They don’t realize that their neutrality is nothing more than silent consent, silent legitimization of the abuse you suffer. It is saying your black eye must have been the result of walking into a door at the same time that they ignore you being pushed down the stairs.
Albert Einstein said it best: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Neutrality is not always the best choice. Not when neutrality means ignoring the suffering of others in favour of false unity. Not when neutrality is hurting those who have not found their voice yet and keeping them from speaking.