Virtues are not Opinions
We’ve been silent for a while now. Partially because we’ve been doing a lot of
listening, praying, and grieving. Mostly because words are very hard to find when you
know they will never, ever be enough. But the time to be silent is over.
When so much is so complicated and so wrong, it’s hard to know where to start
sorting it out and cleaning it up. We’re going to keep things simple and stick to the
subject we’re best at: words. A lot of words are being thrown around carelessly with very
little, if any, thought to what they actually mean and what we’re really saying when we
Here are the words we’ll be defining:
(If you’re as exhausted by certain phrases as we are, that list is probably where you
figure out where this blog is going.)
All definitions were taken from merriam-webster.com.
Belief: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some
person or thing; something that is accepted, considered to be true, or held as
an opinion; conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some
being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.
Opinion: a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a
particular matter; belief stronger than impression and less strong than
Fact: something that has actual existence; an actual occurrence; a piece of
information presented as having objective reality; the quality of being actual.
Value: (n) the monetary worth of something; relative worth, utility, or
importance; something (such as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable
or desirable. (v) to consider or rate highly.
Virtue: conformity to a standard of right; a beneficial quality or power of a
thing; a commendable quality or trait; a capacity to act.
Entitled: having a right to certain benefits or privileges; having or showing a
feeling of entitlement. Entitlement: a right to benefits specified especially by
law or contract; belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges.
Respect: (n) an act of giving particular attention; high or special regard; (v) to
consider worthy of high regard.
This brings us to the phrases we would prefer to never hear again.
“Everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs. We have to respect each other’s values. A
difference in opinion isn’t worth losing a friendship.”
“Isn’t worth losing a friendship…”
Really? We ask that you stop and carefully consider how much privilege that
statement is based in. While we can’t speak for Breonna Taylor’s friends, we imagine
they feel that the enforcement of a no-knock warrant searching for 2 people who were
already in custody was not worth losing her friendship over. Her life was worth so, so
much more. We can’t speak for George Floyd’s friends, but we’re certain his friendship
was worth more than $20. His life was worth so, so much more. We could go on, and on,
and on, because the examples are coming faster than we can acknowledge them. In the
time it has taken us to outline and complete this blog, 3 more black lives have ended,
and that count just comes from the headlines we’ve seen without intentionally looking
for them. More friendships. More lives. We’ll come back to this sentence later.
“Everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs.”
That is a fact. Everyone is free to believe whatever the hell they want, whether those
beliefs are rooted in fact, virtue, respect, or not. But no one is entitled to inflict or force
their beliefs on anyone else. They’re entitled to have them. They’re entitled to express
them. That’s it. You can choose to share and respect them or not. They have no say in
“We have to respect each other’s values.”
No. Just, no. Virtues, yes. Values, no. A value is simply that—something an
individual person has assigned worth and value to. Whether or not what someone values
is respectable is up for you to decide; they can’t demand any more than the respect
they’re entitled to. You are obligated to respect someone’s right to life. You are obligated
to respect their right to hold and voice their own opinions, beliefs, and values. You are
under no obligation to respect the way they live their lives, or the opinions, beliefs, or
values they hold.
“A difference in opinion isn’t worth losing a friendship.”
This is a copout and we’re calling bullshit. We can’t listen to it anymore. Some
differences of opinion aren’t worth losing a friendship. We have been friends for more
years than we care to publicly count. In those years, we have held countless differences
of opinion. We’ve held many different and sometimes conflicting beliefs. We hold
shared values and unshared values. None of them have been worth losing our friendship
over because, despite our different opinions, beliefs, and values, we are rooted together
by common virtues. But if tomorrow one of us wakes up, straps a swastika to her arm,
and takes to the streets with a torch—or even suggests that those who do so are “good
people”— this party is over. We’re no longer dealing with just a difference of opinion or
beliefs. We’re dealing with a diametric opposition of values with the presence of virtue
on one side and a lack thereof on the other. No shared history would ever matter if there
was such a complete break in what’s held us together.
If you’re not confronting racism because, “A difference in opinion isn’t worth losing
a friendship,” then please start using the right words. “I’m opting for complicit silence
because the consequences of confronting racism would be more detrimental to my life
than racism itself has ever been.”
If you’re not willing to own that last statement, then start saying what actually needs
to be said. Call racism out when you see it, no matter how large or small the aggression.
Stand up to your friend, neighbor, pastor, teacher, family member, or anyone else who’s
guilty of these aggressions. They’re a lot more likely to listen to you than the people
they’re discriminating against. Educate them if you can. Approach them with love and
try to change their minds and hearts if that’s what you feel called to do. Call them out
and cut them out of your life if that’s what you feel called to do. But never, ever let them
or yourself off the hook by saying it’s not worth losing a friendship over while other
people are losing their lives.
To our friends and readers of color. We have failed you. We as a society and we as
two educated and informed white women who could never claim we haven’t been paying
attention. We haven’t done enough. We have no idea what “enough” is, but until every
person in this country is more outraged by the lynching of your children than the
burning of a department store, we haven’t done enough. Until every bystander is willing
to become an activist in the moment, willing to confront, name, and interrupt racism as
it’s happening—willing to swarm, overpower, and pull the racist’s knee off your child’s
neck the moment it makes contact instead of watching and filming him call for you as
his life is snuffed away—we haven’t done enough.
We have no hollow platitudes or empty excuses to offer. No past actions, intentions,
or efforts matter when the failure has been so complete. You’re still dying at the hands of
people who look like us. You’re dying because for generations, too many white people
have said things like “I didn’t enslave anyone,” or “my people had it just/almost as bad,”
and shrugged all responsibility for the broken system we inherited while holding tight to
the privileges it affords us. You’re dying because for 400 years, too many white people
have given themselves permission to believe that someone can simultaneously hold
hate, contempt, and disregard for your lives and be a good person. You’re dying because
in the 165 years since the 13th amendment was ratified, there hasn’t been a single
generation with enough white people willing to admit that a giant genocidal mess was
made and still needs to be cleaned up. You’re dying because you’ve been left to defend
your right to breathe to people who don’t believe you have a right to speak, kneel,
gather, or even exist.
You’re dying and all we can say is, we know. We see you. We see them. We have
always been paying attention. We have always been trying. We have failed and for that
we are immeasurably sorry, but the burden of forgiving our failures isn’t on you. You’re
carrying too many burdens that shouldn’t be yours as it is. It’s on us to do better. To be
better. To show up more, to speak out more, to keep listening, learning, reading, and
teaching. To keep doing the work and having the hard conversations it will take to get
where we need to be. We will make more mistakes along the way. We will listen with
respect when you point them out, learn from them, and do better. We will never
question your truths, struggles, or experiences. We will likely fail again, but we will
never stop trying; we have no right to quit when you don’t have the option.
If you are looking for resources to educate yourself, or you are looking for ways to help, please visit the official Black Lives Matter website.
Jessica and Ryanne