The Paradox of Silence: Some Questions About Silence as Resistance

In Part I, I note the difficulty in distinguishing between silencing and silence as resistance. This difficulty has often led people in power to misinterpret the silence of people of color. Part II further explores the complications of incorporating the study of silence into resistance scholarship. I illustrate this complexity by discussing the silencing of welfare mothers and the use of language by women of color to challenge dominant medical discourse. Part III considers Professor Montoya’s proposal to use silence as a pedagogical tool. Continuing my examination of silence as both liberating and accommodating, I distinguish between silence in the classroom as a method for subverting the dominant style of speech and silence as reinforcement of students’ reluctance to express their opinions in class. Finally, using Professor Montoya’s story about racist graffiti, Part IV emphasizes that silence may constitute complicity in marginalizing discourse rather than resistance to that discourse. In short, silence provides a fruitful yet complicated arena of study for resistance scholars.