The Corrosive Nature Of Silence

Los Alamos

The kids are all away at school again.  While putting away some Christmas stuff I couldn’t stop thinking about Olivia Hamilton’s letter.  In the next to last scene of our favorite Christmas movie, Holiday in Handcuffs, one of the characters asks for the other’s forgiveness as she laments the corrosive nature of silence.

Back in the mid nineties working a very dead end job at the Los Alamos Inn, a friend and I decided to quit our jobs and apply to be painters at Los Alamos Public Schools for the summer.  We were hired and I ended up working for Facilities seasonally in various capacities for a few years.  Mostly it was a good experience but Ms. Hamilton’s letter stirred up some unpleasant memories.

Answering the phone in the office one afternoon I remember being shouted at by the high school vice principal  who was utterly enraged that men from the valley,  long-time school system employees, were chatting with the nice Los Alamos children.  What still makes me ill almost 30 years later was his language — profane, crude, and lewd.

Why didn’t I do something I wondered?  I thought about this last week reading Ms. Hamilton’s letter and the answer was simply that racism and sexism were so pervasive throughout the district that it all felt pointless.  There was just so much hate.

Have things improved?  Maybe, maybe not.  One of the kids mentioned last week that a younger friend was relieved that someone who had made me incredibly uneasy in local sports had moved on.  It was the best news I had heard in a long time.

Why do we keep silent?  The reasons are obvious.  We live in a small town with one employer.  Everyone works with this person, is friends with that person, is neighbors with someone, or doesn’t want to upset a coach and ruin their college prospects.  The corrosive nature of silence claims more victims.  There are an awful lot of bullies out there and we desperately need to put an end to sexism, racism, and hate in all its guises — even when it embarrasses our kids and they ask us to just pretend it’s  not happening.  

The county’s racial equity task force should not be sunsetted either.  Ignoring injustice is futile.  You find yourself wondering almost 30 years later what you might have done better.