Silence is knowing something is morally unjust but lowering your head and walking the other way. Silence is discrimination, violence and war. Silence is comfort. Silence is the privilege of thinking our world is acceptable just the way it is. Silence is pervasive all around us.
We spend so much time discussing what is being said we ignore what is not being said. Silence is powerful, but silence is also destructive. And if we look deep enough, we will recognize that we all can be silent at times. If we’re critical enough of ourselves, we can also recognize when it’s time for us to be our most courageous selves and speak out.
This summer I was abroad for three months and decided to remove myself from American journalism—partly because I really wanted to and partly because no one outside of the United States cares what CNN or FOX has to say. The conflict between Palestine and Israel began to escalate and my eyes, although normally trained to see statistics, began to see something different. Behind every number was a person. A father, a doctor, a Christian, a Muslim, a teacher, an orphan—these were not combatants nor were they a homogenous group. These were people, like you and me, with dreams and hopes to carve out their own futures and identities. Regardless of what ‘side’ you are on, hundreds of innocent lives were shed and that was something to mourn and discuss. This wasn’t a political problem anymore. This was a human problem.
Once I returned to the United States, I was jolted awake to a change in the narrative. CNN describes it as the “Israeli-Hamas” conflict, although approximately 80 percent of the causalities have been civilians. After attacks on middle schools, hospitals, beaches, and playgrounds, this was a war on innocent Palestinians, not Hamas. Communicating this misnomer to millions of Americans alters the narrative of the conflict, thus altering the support. Other news outlets reduce the conflict to videos of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli tanks but fail to mention those rocks are being thrown at an army among the tenth greatest in the world. Silence propagates false information to bystanders of the conflict. Silence continues the American support in Israel, whether through divestments or foreign aid. Silence kills and silence is genocide.
Silence has thankfully not followed in the death of 18-year old Michael Brown, but silence is one of the reasons America has continued to find itself with ‘Ferguson's’ on its hands. Prior to Brown’s death, numerous black males had been killed because of convenient stereotyping. 21-year-old John Crawford was shot dead in WalMart by police after Crawford picked up a toy gun from the store. 43-year-old father of six Eric Garner from New York was confronted by police for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, then killed after the police put him in a chokehold. The chokehold is banned by NYPD. 36-year-old Daily Press pressman Dante Parker was shot with a stun gun after police received a call about a robbery suspect. Not only was Dante innocent, but he also had no criminal background other than a DUI. 25-year old Ezell Ford was unarmed when he was shot dead on August 11. He was also mentally ill. All of these deaths happened in the past two months alone.
Deaths such as these are not new to the narrative. We can start talking about Ferguson and Michael and racial profiling, but that would mean we would be discussing the end without understanding the beginning. We need to begin at the start of the narrative and acknowledge that we have not yet corrected our tainted history. It’s not okay that Ferguson, Missouri is 67 percent black but has only three black officers and one black school board members. It’s not okay that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime compared to one in 17 white males. It’s not okay that many in America believe racial discrimination only exists in the past. It still survives and will continue to thrive if we remain docile.
Silence hurts even when we are on the right side of history. Recently, Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were given life sentences for the atrocities they led during the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. This trial came 35 years after nearly three million Cambodians were killed in the genocide. This is huge progress towards protecting human rights not only for Cambodians, but for all humans. By ignoring and leaving this out of our conversations we are diminishing the long road Cambodians took to receive justice. Cambodia’s story is conveniently not part of our history (think, have you ever read about the Cambodian genocide in high school?) because it’s not in America’s political interests. But we’re bigger than our governments. We are not products of the poor decisions our representatives are making. Learning from history helps prevents us from repeating mistakes, but by not learning from stories such as Cambodia’s, we make the path more difficult to attain our own civil liberties and fight for that of others.
Our conversations are marinated in wars, deaths, discriminations and battles. It’s on all of us to change the narrative. We need to be proactive and reactive. Get out of your comfort shoes and befriend the 'other.' There are untold stories and people are dying because we're not looking for them. America has been silent—too silent—in its discussions. But we don’t have to be. If nothing else the past few weeks have taught us, remember that:
Silence is the Palestinian genocide.
Silence is Ferguson.
Silence is the Cambodian genocide.
Silence is…..(something you could prevent).Leena El-Sadek is Trinity senior. This is her first column in a semester-long series.