It was once a powerful expression. It once said something new, and exciting, and dangerous, and true. Now it is hackneyed.
How many times have you heard the exhortation to “speak truth to power”? In how many inappropriate situations have you heard applied the exhortation “speaking truth to power”.
It once meant standing up to those people and institutions who could directly and physically harm you. Think of Martin Luther King in Selma in 1965; Nelson Mandela in Rivonia in 1963; Mohandas Gandhi on the Salt March in 1930.
Now it merely means saying something irritating and self-righteous to those with whom you disagree. It is an expression of the ‘victim-culture’ of our day: Monty Python pinned it neatly with the “don’t you oppress me” sequence in The Life of Brian.
Every time you claim to speak truth to power you make a claim about your own powerlessness.
At the same time, you assert that your powerlessness actually adds to the truthfulness of what it is you say: I am truthful because I am powerless.
And very often, the people who are making these claims are Western, middle-class, university-educated, and wealthy beyond the dreams of 90% of the rest of humanity.
Let’s leave “speaking truth to power” to one side for a time, and think about our own complicity in the structural injustices of the world. It’s harder work than student posturing, but it is more grown up.