I was struck a week or so ago when I read Benjamin Hoffman and Tayla Minsberg’s article, “The Deafening Silence of Colin Kaepernick” in The New York Times. My interest was heightened because I had recently re-read some of Cheryl Glenn’s important work on silence, and especially on the difference between silence, which can be powerfully positive, and being silenced, which cannot. And also because I had seen Nike’s powerful new ad, narrated by Kaepernick and featuring him along with a wide range of other athletes, both disabled and able-bodied, each one showing just how completely they can “do it.”
Most importantly, though, I began thinking about silence because we so seldom encounter it today, with the cacophonous 24/7 newsfeeds, livestreams, social media dumps, and all the other very noisy voices and messages coming at us almost to the point of harassment. At least I sometimes feel harassed, and I need to turn everything off. Everything. And enjoy the peace of silence.
I’m thinking, then, of asking students to engage in some purposeful silence, and to monitor it, its effects on others, and their responses to it. Doing so will make, I believe, for an important class discussion on the uses and importance of silence. I’d also like to ask students to read the Times article on Kaepernick and outline the ways he has used silence strategically, and how he has alternated silence with occasional live appearances, written statements. or speeches (such as his speech in accepting Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award).
What do they take away from the article on Kaeperick? Does Kaepernick use silence in different ways for different occasions? How effective do they find his use of silence? What other examples of purposeful silence can they come up with and how do they work, rhetorically?
So I think it’s time for a little attention to silence in this most unquiet time. It’s probably a good idea, too, to turn back to Glenn’s Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence for the many lessons it has to teach us today.