by John Hampton
Nearly two years ago, I wrote a blog post about how my church split, and it pissed off a lot of people. People I knew were reading what I wrote and talking about it on Facebook. Many of my friends were supportive of what I had to say, and that kind of validation was an amazing thing to experience. But not everyone was supportive. Lots of people didn’t like the way I talked about my experience.
They said I was angry.
They said I was looking for things to complain about.
They said I was just imagining things.
Not too long ago, I learned about Muted Group Theory, and something clicked. First developed by Edwin and Shirley Ardener in 1975 to show how white men create the dominant culture and in turn subjugate women through the use of language, this theory also accounts for the ways that dominant culture mutes people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and so many others.
The muting process happens in a variety of ways, including critiquing the lexicon that the oppressed person uses, trivializing their opinions or concerns, and by generally censoring their voices.
For example: I would get asked, “How can we create a safe place for people in the margins?” I would point out that it might be nice to have it stated somewhere that “we will not discriminate.” I would also point out that it might make sense to have people of color involved in creating a safe place for people of color.
But people weren’t able to hear me. I would just get talked at. Or if I wasn’t getting talked at, I didn’t get acknowledged at all.
This is how the muting process works. I was told that my story wasn’t real. I was told that my story wasn’t trustworthy. I was told that my story shouldn’t have space in the public sphere.
Or I was ignored.
But not everyone ignored me.
Two years ago, I watched my community split. Now I’m the one being watched because of the way I reacted. Because the dominant culture couldn’t handle what I had to say and didn’t like how I said it.
I had the misfortune to live out Muted Group Theory, and many of my friends and I continue to live it out every day because the dominant culture can’t hear what we have to say. For a long time now, I’ve been mostly keeping my mouth shut. But I’m tired of being silent.
So here we are.
I am going to continue telling my story. I take ownership of it so the dominant culture can’t. I’m tired of being overlooked and misunderstood. Besides, my story isn’t for the people who can’t hear it. My story is for people who have similar stories – people like me – people like you.
My story is for solidarity. And so is yours.
Telling these stories will make us better.