DeRay McKesson: Living “In the Quiet” No More

Three separate quotes from On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope (2018) by DeRay McKesson

Hope is the belief that our tomorrows can be better than our todays. Hope is not magic; hope is work.

In each generation there is a moment when young and old, inspired or disillusioned, come together around a shared hope, imagine the world as it can be, and have the opportunity to bring that world into existence. Our moment is now. 

If your love for me requires that I hide parts of who I am, then you don’t love me. Love is never a request for silence.

In addition to addressing his and others’ social activism in the 12 essays of On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, DeRay McKesson tells us important details of his own upbringing and influences.

Why write about the personal stuff? As explained to Michel Martin, NPR:

We have to start talking about all of who we are because all of who we are shows up in the work that we do…

I know that I’m a gay black man every time I come into a space, and what does that mean to be in movement spaces or other spaces where people are homophobic, but like me. I wanted to write about that. I didn’t know how to write a book about justice or about where we’ve been and where we go without also saying here’s who I am in those ways…

Among the first to champion the Black Lives Matter movement, DeRay McKesson’s difficult childhood included abandonment at a very early age by his drug addicted mother, sexual abuse by an older boy, bullying, living in a violent neighborhood, and coming out to himself as gay but feeling the need to keep it to himself.

An excerpt in The Advocate is loaded with meaningful statements about living “in the quiet”—his perspective on growing up oppressed—which DeRay McKesson feels differs from “the closet.” Selected quotes from this piece:    

But I did not know then the cost of the quiet. I did not know that the quiet is a thief, that it steals the potential for joy, for power, for freedom. And like most thieves, it works so that you don’t realize you’ve been robbed until what you once had is already gone. Or perhaps it steals away the possibility of things that you deserved, wanted, expected.

I think about the quiet instead of “the closet” because I’ve never hidden any part of myself from myself or from others, and the closet seems to imply some form of hiding. And when I think about being in the closet, I think of being there alone. But there are many people raised in the quiet, still in the quiet, stuck in the quiet, together. And they don’t always know that they’re not alone, even if it feels like they are. I was never hiding, as the image of the closet implies. But I grew up quieter about the parts of myself that I didn’t think anyone would love, the parts that I had never seen loved in others, the parts that might put me in danger if they were seen and heard as publicly as every other part of me. Quieter, that is; not silent.

When I think about the quiet, the image of a library comes to mind — the place where supposedly you can’t learn if there’s noise, a place of exploration that says don’t speak. But there are always people whispering and passing notes in the library, always people finding ways to have a voice despite the rules, always people coming out of the quiet.

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