Monday, July 21, 2014

When Silence is not Golden

When I first started contributing to this space, I was aware of the fact that I was opening myself to public scrutiny. It wasn’t the first time I was sharing my personal thoughts in a public forum but it would be the first time doing so on a consistent basis. Given my background in youth work, I naturally gravitated towards commentary on societal issues particularly impacting young people. 

I was well aware that Barbadian society though considered democratic does not always encourage diversity of opinion especially when people feel they are the object of your concerns. For instance I have been accused of being an operative for the opposition party when raising awareness of youth unemployment and then labelled by opposition supporters as being partisan when endorsing government measures to address the same issue. 

The lesson I learnt was that it was impossible to please everyone but to always canvass the ideas of the young people who I represented and express their fears and concerns with as much conviction as they did to me.   

Being outspoken did not happen overnight. It came from taking small bold steps and through the advice and encouragement from other outspoken people. Even now I do not consider myself sufficiently outspoken much of it stems from the fear of victimisation which has been passed down from generation to generation in Barbadian society. 

Evidence of this was highlighted in another section of the media recently by way of an interview with a University of the West Indies Student. The interview took place after a planned protest against a range of tax measures and cuts taken by government. When asked why she was present when many of her peers were not, the student noted that her parents had always encouraged her to be outspoken. On the other hand several of her colleagues were warned by their parents of jeopardising their career prospects if they were associated with the march.

It reminded me of my UWI days when I was one of the very few Barbadian students protesting the planned hike in amenities fees among the scores of non-national students who helped to bring some sanity to the debate.

But it is not only in Barbados where being outspoken gets the disapproving eye. The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be invoking condemnation from countries all across the world. Improper actions have been committed on both sides but disproportionate use of force from Israeli raids resulting in the deaths of mainly civilian women and children ought to be condemned by the international community. The claim has been that militants have been using civilians as human shields but among these deaths included four children who were playing football on a beach.

In response to the ongoing tragedy NBA star Dwight Howard who has a following of 15 million on Twitter posted #FreePalestine. He was immediately blasted for ‘choosing sides’ in the conflict and deleted his tweet with an apology.  Barbadian Pop Sensation Rihanna did likewise but later deleted her tweet and offered a lengthy apology. The support from both of these international icons to the plight of thousands of women and children could have gone a long way in forcing people across the world to take note and place pressure on their respective governments to speak up about these atrocities. Sadly however commercial and political interests have won out over human rights issues.

The events in Palestine are but one of the many situations across the world which requires the voice of the international community. History is replete with tragic lessons of the evil that flourishes when we sit back and watch those with economic, political and military power muzzle our voices while promoting their agendas. It is always tempting to sit on the fence and allow other persons to do the speaking or to await the outcome of such situations, that is until we find ourselves in similar predicaments and then wish for others to rescue us as we struggle to find our voice.

Over the past two weeks I have been fortunate to engage three colleagues who have done humanitarian work in the Middle East and in Palestine. From the information they shared and from critically assessing the various media reports I have come to the conclusion that silence is not the best option from my end. I asked my colleagues what I could do to bring awareness about this issue to my small sphere of influence. Their simple message was that if each person raised their voice in unison in whatever way they could, it would force world leaders to stop turning a blind eye. It would also give hope to the children of Palestine that they have a future beyond fleeing bombs and being treated as less than humans. 

Whatever our ethnic, religious, national or political origins and persuasions we are all human beings and the unfair treatment of any one group of people will eventually cause great discomfort for several other groups. Our silence is not always golden.

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