Silence Is Violence

Sociocultural competence is one of the three pillars of Dual Language Education. According to the Guiding Principles of Dual Language (Howard et. al, 2018, p. 3), sociocultural competence includes identity formation, intercultural competence, and multicultural appreciation. Intercultural competence is not only the ability to work and play with those who are different from you, but it is also the ability to advocate for others’ rights – for justice. Fighting for others does not always mean participating in marches or organizing. Sometimes, what is even more important is the daily act of standing up for our compañeros. We need to teach our kids not to sit silently in the face of injustice.  

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” These words continue to be true today, and in fact, silence by White bystanders in the face of racial aggression is in itself a microaggression. Microaggressions are seemingly small statements that directly or indirectly insult someone on the basis of their identity such as race. Silence, although not ostensibly a statement, can often speak louder than words.When following racial aggression, silence tacitly implies agreement with the harm done. Silence is racial violence.  

All students can be involved in responding in the face of racial aggressions against their classmates. However, in contrast to White students, students who are visibly of color should never be expected to speak up. According to Reverend Carolyn Helsel, an assistant professor of homiletics at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, “Our colleagues of color are constantly being taxed by microaggressions and the stress that goes with that, so it’s important that white people who are not operating under the same stressful conditions to be able to be bold and speak out.”  

How do we teach our students to speak out against racial aggression committed against classmates, friends, or someday colleagues? Here are 5 suggestions. 

  1. Teach students what microaggressions are. After all, if students do not understand what microaggressions are, they will not be able to identify them and fight against them. Many people include in the definition of microaggressions the words “often unintentional.” Although I tend to leave those words out because intention has no bearing on the impact, it is important to have the intention vs. impact discussion with students. Students need to understand that while they or someone else may unintentionally harm someone, it is important to address and disarm any microaggression because the impact it has on the other person does not change due to intent. Here are some resources to understand different types of microaggressions: Denial of One’s Own Bias, Forever Alien in One’s Own Land, Color Blindness, Assumption of Criminality 
  2. Have class discussions about how to respond to microaggressions. Give students examples and have them write scripts together in small groups about how they would respond. Teachers may want to consider using this CNN article as a model for potential responses.
  3. Have students practice responding to microaggressions with one another. As uncomfortable and contrived as it may feel, both students and adults should practice how they will respond to microaggressions. Without role play, it is easy to get stuck and not know how to respond at the very moment (Finsmith presentation, 2021).
  4. Students with racial privilege should always speak out. However, those students who are visibly of color will need to decide for themselves when they speak out. As previously mentioned, it is never the responsibility of people of color to speak out against microaggressions. People who are visibly of color have to weigh the negative consequences of speaking out against microaggressions (exhaustion from constantly having to fight against racism, losing jobs, getting lower grades, further microaggressions against them, etc.) against the benefits of speaking out.  
  5. Teach resilience. Even when students speak out against racial aggression, their words may not be appreciated by the aggressor. In other words, students speaking out may not actually enact change. However, when students speak out against microaggressions, their voices will be appreciated by the victim, lessening the impact of the original microaggression.  

As educators, it is our responsibility to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students. Sociocultural competence in Dual Language Education, specifically intercultural competence, asks that we speak up in the face of racial injustices – and that we teach our students to do so as well. 

Aradhana Mudambi
Author: Aradhana Mudambi

Dr. Aradhana Mudambi is an accomplished, multilingual educator and social justice activist. She is the proud owner of Social Justice and Education. She is currently the Director of Multilingual Education at Framingham Public Schools, Adjunct Professor of Intercultural Communications at Eastern Connecticut State University, and President of the Multistate Association for Bilingual Education. She has extensive experience writing grants for language acquisition programs. She is also an experienced advocate for Dual Language Education and World Languages, having been invited recently to speak at institutions such as Harvard University and the National Association of Bilingual Education. You can learn more about her and her work at

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