Friday, April 2, 2010

On When to Speak

This is a guest post from Broadsnark

I am an anarchist, atheist, adopted, jewish, bilingual, woman with a degree in Latin American Latino Studies and a head crammed full of the history of the Americas. I spent a decade working in the law in Florida and another decade working for nonprofits in California and DC.  I know more than your average person about the history, policies, and human rights violations related to the food system, drug prohibition, the prison industrial complex, immigration, and (inexplicably) cowboys.  I believe that justice, peace, and understanding are possible.  I blog at

Growing up in South Florida, I was surrounded by people who had lived horrors that were incomprehensible to me.

I had friends who grew up in Nicaragua during the war and had to hide under their bed as the fighting went on outside. I had friends whose parents were dissidents in Cuban prison. I had friends who watched paramilitaries in Colombia execute unarmed people and who could do nothing but feign support and drink beer with them after. I had friends who told me about seeing body parts on the streets of Haiti. I listened as people with numbers tattooed on their arms talked about losing their entire families in camps.

So much suffering.

And all too often the people who had suffered so much were unable to connect their suffering to the people around them. Nicaraguans looked down on Haitians. Haitians looked down on African Americans. Cubans looked down on everyone and everyone looked down on them right back. Fear, stereotyping, and ignorance all too often prevailed. The communities who had suffered used their suffering as justification for the denigration of others.

It would seem that experiencing dehumanization would make people more sensitive to it, but, just as often, people simply turn around and do the same thing to someone else.

And where does that leave me? I am incredibly privileged. I have not experienced the horrors of war, rape, genocide, poverty. And yet, don’t I still have an obligation to protest when I see groups being vilified? No matter who is doing it? But how do I do that? How do I tell the holocaust survivor that their hatred of Germans is wrong? How do I tell the person whose child was blown up by a Palestinian terrorist that their hatred is wrong? How do I tell the person whose child was shot by Israeli soldiers that their hatred is wrong?

How do I not tell them?

I don’t know.

But I do know this. All of the suffering in this world is connected. It is contagious. It is dependent upon our willingness to vilify other people, to condone hierarchies, to accept domination, to embrace violence, to ignore the suffering of others, to worry about “our own.”

And I am tired of all the suffering.