The message in my inbox seemed innocuous.
I occasionally received requests from people trying to reconnect or artists complimenting my work. When I opened the message it was backlash from a stranger—an essay I had written offended them. The essay in question was about how a spate of bombings in Austin, Texas, affected my mental health as a Black woman and mother.
I couldn’t believe how it was possible for the subject matter to offend someone. However, I was mostly upset at the unwarranted disgust this stranger expressed toward me. I wanted to write a lengthy response, expressing my frustration and anger with them. Instead, I blocked them, and then I reposted the essay on each of my social media platforms.
Now is not the time to be silent.
I grew up under my father’s philosophy children should be seen and not heard. It seeped into my daily interactions with people and I often silenced myself. I believe this silence kept me from learning, helping others, and receiving blessings that were due to me.
Over time, I learned to speak up and I saw the changes that happened around me when I spoke. I advocated for myself in social situations and protested against injustices I saw and experienced in my community. I earned mockery and scorn, sometimes to my face, but more often behind my back. However, the positive changes that grew from me lifting my voice were far greater than the negativity.
Do not shutter your voice against dissenting opinion.
What I wrote in my essay angered this one person, but it had inspired and helped far more people. I could have responded in a way that perpetuated the cycle of anger and hatred. However, I gave my voice more power by refusing to descend to their level and by continuing to spread my message.
I do not believe we should run from every fight, but we must choose when to put up our defenses and when we should prepare for combat or risk corrupting our own message.
The clattering voices of the negative resound louder than ever. Everywhere you look, there is someone shouting in another person’s face. Comments on social media are darker, crueler, and written to inflict as much harm as possible. People’s opinions are wrapped in metaphorical barbed wire without care for the damage they inflict. More often than not, people want you to sit down and be quiet instead of speaking up.
It would be easier to just hang back and let everyone else have at it. Why stand in the way? Why stand up for what you believe in if someone is just going to attack you?
When I find myself in these moments of fear, I think about my past. I think about me at 15, 21, and beyond arguing my way through tears in defense of my ideals.
It can be tough to stand up when you are the only one defending a movement, arguing for your opinion, or pointing out the cruelty in this world. But the mighty have been called to defend the weak and the oppressed. Sometimes you alone are the mighty.
You are powerful beyond words. You are loved beyond measure. Even when you think you are not being seen, you are. Know that someone out there sees you, sees the best in you, and wants you to succeed.
Do not be deterred by those who will mock you or scorn your name, because you will have the true victory. These moments, which seem like hot coals on our backs, are turning points in our lives that shape us into greater people. They help us to carve out space for life and growth in the face of death that threatens to overcome our world.
Remember that even if it looks like you are standing alone, there are others around the world like you—and together, we are legion.
DW McKinney is a writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada. HelloGiggles, Stoneboat Literary Journal, TAYO Literary Magazine, and others have featured her essays. She is currently working on For Langston, a project on her website that features POC and opportunities for Othered writers and artists. Check her out on Instagram (thedwmckinney).