After watching, “Tongues Untied,” the idea of using silence as a coping mechanism became pretty salient to me. While the individuals in the movie were deliberately employing it, they were also aware of its potentiality as a means of oppression. So, I guess the overall feeling I left with was one of uneasiness. Not to be the personal agency hating cynic, but what a great weapon for “the system!” You might have a problem when one of your most powerful means of dealing with your situation is also slowly suffocating your freedom.
On one hand, not saying anything allows one to maintain an aura of mystery and avoid any condemnation based on their choice of words or identification. Not to speak is not to self-identify with a marginalized group. And, for those like Judith Butler, this has its advantages. The closet isn’t the greatest hangout, but at least it’s safe and familiar.
But, silence was forced on the oppressed in the first place. Nobody chooses to stay quiet without significant provocation. Silence preserves the status quo; keeping the privileged comfortable and thriving. Continuing the silence progresses the notion that those in oppression don’t have anything useful or productive to contribute to society. So, while the closet it safe and familiar, it’s still hidden and secret and home to those things nobody wants to see. Being whoever you are shouldn’t is something consumed by shame and secrecy…
It’s really all in how you look at it. Strategic silence is obviously better than other-imposed silence. Certain situations call for certain reactions and silence may or may not be a viable option in those situations. The point, however, is that silence is ultimately a powerful card in the game of structure vs. agency, oppression vs. privilege, and even knowledge vs. ignorance.