Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Thursday | January 31, 2013
Home : Commentary
A conspiracy of silence
Jaevion Nelson
By Jaevion Nelson

WHO IN heaven's name commissioned this senseless conspiracy of silence across the country? How can we be so unperturbed by the infringement of our constitutional rights as a people and rampant corruption? This could not be the same country that was born out of people coming together and using their energy to speak out and fight for what is right.

Look at the laundry list of injustices happening around us, yet we are silent about them. Who will fight for the 14-year-old-girl impregnated by her 40-year-old uncle who raped her, and yet she is prevented by law from having an abortion? The students in a low-profile high school who know their chances of success are way below students attending a high-profile high school because of where they are educated? The woman who wasn't promoted because she refused to have sex with her supervisor? The Rastaman who was told he couldn't be employed as a bank teller because of his hair? And, maybe, this week, one boy from Dunkirk with his six subjects who would have been denied a job because of where he lives.

SEARED CONSCIENCES

We hear these stories every day, but they do not seem to nudge any sort of 'botheration' among a large number of us - not even among those of us who are so often the victims left to court our disenfranchisement and oppression. Why?

I am saddened that so many Jamaicans are so apathetic. Besides the usual 'miserable' few, particularly from civil society, who are ALWAYS outraged and speaking out, there is hardly anyone else. The future of this country is imprisoned by a conspiracy of silence that is most deafening, and it is time we do something about it.

Imagine if we were speaking out about corruption, injustice, hopelessness, poverty, discrimination, and crime and violence? We would probably be a more advanced nation and closer to our vision to become a developed country by the year 2030. So, what exactly could be the reason for this silence?

CULTURE OF FEAR

I think we are silent because people are punished - from a very young age, at that - for daring to speak out, challenge the status quo and stand up to authority. As a consequence, we grow up learning that it is safe to be silent; even if you are being hurt - no need to fear being victimised if you keep quiet.

In addition, we defend the arbitrary use of 'rules' and mutter or shout 'rules are rules'. Nothing irks me more! Rules are not just rules that we should follow without reasonable understanding of their purpose and relevance in the day's society.

So what if a boy decides to wear tight pants to school? What if the sales executive decides not to wear a long-sleeve shirt and tie every day to work? What if the policewoman prefers to have her natural hair in an Afro? What if you decided to pierce your nose or don a tattoo? What if the first-form student decides to challenge a senior teacher about something he/she has done? What if you choose to allow your child at St Andrew High to take English or math in fourth form and expect that she be allowed to graduate? So what?

FREE AGENTS

Are you telling me people should not use their agency to protest? Why do we castigate people for challenging rules? Can you imagine what would have happened if Rosa Parks did not sit in the wrong seat on the bus that day? Would slavery have been abolished if our ancestors did not revolt and orchestrate uprisings to be free? Imagine if Nelson Mandela and other black South Africans followed the rules of apartheid. And what if women heads of state followed the rules of patriarchy? And let us not begin to talk about certain cultural rules such as breast pressing, honour crimes and female genital mutilation.

Let me be clear, I do think rules are important. I concede we should adhere to the vast majority of them and appropriate sanctions applied when they are broken. However, as society continues to evolve, we must recognise and appreciate that the status quo will be challenged in all sorts of ways.

Let us encourage ourselves to be respectful of rules but, where the need exists, use our agency to challenge rules and the status quo. We cannot afford to be so silent. We only provide people who do wrong an excuse to do ill. A society cannot progress in silence. We must be outraged, strategic and concerned about our future.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.

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