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there is no glory in silent suffering

May 31, 2019

I have three settings when it comes to how I live my life. I either live my life like a Nina Simone quote, a Zora Neale Hurston quote, or a Rihanna quote.

This week, Madam Hurston’s quote about not being silent or else people will say you enjoyed the bullshit became relevant when a beloved colleague of mine had a very specific pitch stolen by the outlet I-D. And was subsequently expected to be gracious about it.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that while I-D has a history of this, they are not the first, they definitely won’t be the last, and that pitch and article theft is rampant in the freelance world.

With that being case, you’re probably wondering why this particular case is noteworthy. Or why I’m writing about this to begin with. I’m always going to have a problem with theft and related wrongdoing, of course, but there’s something particularly maddening about being expected to shut up about it.

The “shutting about about it” came about when other “creative”, writers, and editors began concern-trolling freelance writers at-large, mocking us with calls to protect ourselves with NDAs, make our own platforms to avoid theft, or worse, keep our “industry beef” of the timeline to avoid “mess”.

So essentially, we were expected to suffer injustice in silence because doing otherwise is deemed messy, unprofessional, and career-damaging. Which is funny because you’d think theft would be more damning, but I digress.

That said, this brouhaha bears the question: what is it with this fixation on silent suffering?

Well, there’s a number of reasons people expect you to shut the fuck up when it comes to injustice, but I have some very specific theories. Starting with this one:

In any business, like digital media or even show business, concern-trolling about silent suffering often stems from cowardice.

The most obvious reason people encourage silence when obviously bad things happen is because of the projection of their own culpability and cowardice. Ultimately, in this case, people know that stealing from poor Black and Brown creatives like I-D did this week is wrong. Ultimately they know that the practice is not only immoral but purposely exploitative and isolating in a way that demands to be called out. And ultimately. they know it could happen to them.

With this being the case, logic dictates that one would call out the obvious wrong to prevent it from happening over and over again like a fucked up lighting round of Groundhog Day. But that’s not the reality. The reality is that many fear retribution and blacklisting from outlets like I-D — which would have far-reaching consequences like monetary loss. Which is fair. These are real possibilities after all and legitimate fears. But this fear ultimately becomes problematic and selfish when you project it on “others” and to expect them to stay silent as well just so no one “rocks the boat” or the precious ivory tower you’ve locked yourself into in order to avoid the realities of a cruel business and world.

And speaking of selfishness:

The flip-side of this expectation to suffer in silence is “right-of-passage” syndrome.

I’ll be honest. I cut those who fall into the previous category a lot of slack because I too used to fear retribution and blacklisting. But what I ultimately cannot stand is an “I went through it silently, so you should go through it silently too because it’s only fair” motherfucker.

This is otherwise known as “right-of-passage” syndrome.

Under this category, when it comes to media and life in general really, these people understand that a gross wrong has been committed. But instead of fearing what will happen to you or them when you speak out about it, they actually and legitimately get upset. Why? Because they so asininely assumed that they were supposed to suffer that gross indignity. They so asininely assumed that they had no other recourse BUT to shut the fuck up and take it. They so asininely assumed that their own ideas and creations were of such little value that there was absolutely no point in fighting tooth and nail for them. And in doing so, they asininely assumed that they would either be rewarded later (either by the wrongdoer or some other entity entirely) or that their silent suffering would somehow grant them greater character, indomitable strength, or infinite wisdom.

Which, again, is asinine as fuck. If I didn’t already make that clear.

So of course, when you, a fresh-faced, but spirited newcomer challenge these conventions that greatness entails you swallowing abuse or suffering whole—theft in this case—this old seasoned pro can’t help but get indignant and ornery about your defiance. In fact, they don’t even refer to it as defiance. You are branded as ignorant, ungrateful, insolent, and most importantly messy. The reason? Because your protest of said indignity is a painful reminder of their own buffoonery. And the fact that they could have once said something to challenge this powerful entity, but they just chose not to.

But the irony here is that instead of choosing to continue being silent like they were about their own suffering, they are compelled encourage yours because fuckery and misery are two sides of the same coin. And they both enjoy company.

That said, there is a third reason people often stoop to encouraging and glorifying silent suffering.

And that third reason is rather ancient:

Glorified “silent” suffering predates digital media and should be taken up with The Good Book.

In short, blame the Bible. Seriously. One should look no further than Western society’s obsession with Christianity and Christianity’s own obsession with “long-suffering” to explain why people act a fool when you speak up about injustice.

I mean, besides the obvious example of notable pisces, Jesus Christ, there are countless biblical examples of “long and tortuous suffering” supposedly being inflicted on God’s chosen ones to either highlight true devotion or build impeccable character.

There’s the most famous example of long and silent suffering with Job. Poor Job. Job had the nerve to be an upstanding man and citizen and ended up getting fucked with over a bet. Between God and Satan. And boredom, to be honest. Mans lost his whole family, his house, and his billy goats so his devotion could be “tested”. Him experiencing long-suffering and still being a good sport about it was supposed to be a demonstration of Job’s devotion and commitment to God. And again, his goodness. Which is then rewarded with a new shiny family, a new house, and new billy goats that are somehow supposed to erase and ease the loss of the old. Which is pretty fucked up, to say the least.

Another instance was the homie, Jacob. Jacob toiled for 7 years in order to marry his beloved Rachel only to be bamboozled by Laban on his wedding day — since it was “uncustomary” to give away the younger sibling in marriage first — and forced to work another 7 years — for a total of 14 years. And only for Rachel to then croak in the first two. His story is supposed to highlight the fact that his willingness to suffer through 14 long years for his betrothed is a shining example of his fierce love for and his unbreakable devotion to his paramour. But all I see is a nigga who got played but has to rationalize it, because faith.

There’s also the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph. Aside from the fact that Joseph’s life was a set-up from jump street because he was one of only two children that Rachel ended up having before making a mad dash for the pearly gates in the sky, Joseph’s life ends up being one long tale of suffering.

Because of his father’s blatant favoritism of him over his other brothers — aka Leah’s sons — he ends up getting jumped, thrown in a well and left for dead, and sold into slavery where he’s eventually damn near assaulted by Potiphar’s wife, blamed for said attempted assault and thrown in jail because why the fuck would you not put a cherry on top of this shit cake? Anyhow, to cope with the longest losing streak in biblical history, fortune cuts homie a break and gives Joseph the power of dream interpretation. And it is this power (that is, correctly interpreting the pharaoh’s dream that a great abundance AND a great famine would hit Egypt) that saves him from an early death, lands him a promotion right under the Pharaoh, and sets up him up for perhaps the greatest “I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me moment” before Christ when his ain’t-shit brothers bring their asses to the palace to beg for food during the famine. Again, the lesson here is that good people are destined to come out on top despite long-suffering (if they are good), but why was suffering required to begin with? Why couldn’t Joseph skip straight to being great?

Well, his story and many other biblical stories make it so that in this world, suffering is a pre-requisite for greatness and I’m sorry, I can’t get jiggy with that shit.

I mean, I get it. This is life and it wouldn’t be life if bad shit didn’t happen sometimes. But in society’s efforts to rationalize the bad shit that happens in this world (because how could you not), it has borrowed from Christianity’s monotheistic preoccupation with bad things and suffering through them gracefully silently equals big reward, and honestly, it’s about time that we give up this outdated logic. Because it is the same logic that is behind “right of passage syndrome”. It is the same logic that is behind “whataboutmeism”. And it is the same logic that is behind bootstrap evangelism.

Our over-glorification of suffering makes us assume that everyone should be suffering — in silence — rather than demand that no one suffer at all.

And what a cruel, cruel way to live.

CLARKISHA CLAPS BACK is a weekly column that humorously and honestly claps back at the world around writer Clarkisha Kent, from culture, politics, sexuality, gender and her personal life.