The shame of our silence

The shame of our silence


Sunday, July 14, 2019

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Martin Luther King Jr once said these words: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

He was making reference to supposed allies who remained silent about the treatment of blacks during the period of the struggle to gain civil rights in the United States.

I shudder to think that black citizens of the Dominican Republic will one day say this about Jamaica.

I emphasise black citizens of the Dominican Republic because that is what they are, despite the attempts to justify their deportation using heritage and genetic history to Haiti.

The policy and programme of the Government of the Dominican Republic to deport and deprive of citizenship any person born in that nation, whose parents are Haitian, is the most shameful act of cruelty and racism that a Caribbean country has carried out against its citizenry in my lifetime.

Can you imagine being a Jamaican of Panamanian parentage — born here, attended primary, then high school, then university here, and you are then told you are being deported to Panama? You cannot speak Spanish, you have never been to Panama, and you do not even know anyone there.

Well, if this seems bad just imagine the black Dominican Republic citizen with a similar story being sent to Haiti.

The disgrace is then multiplied with the silence and inaction of not just any country, but of Jamaica. This is, after all, the country that produced Michael Manley — the first world leader to introduce economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa; Dudley Thompson, the attorney who defended Jomo Kenyatta, the African freedom fighter; and I daresay, Bob Marley — whose contribution to African liberation, especially Zimbabwe, has not been adequately recorded or propagated. But it is significant.

Historically, we hold a place of pride by saying the unpopular, even when it is dangerous.

We are not doing that now. It is not that I am bashing Prime Minister Andrew Holness. I think he is great. As a matter of fact, I think that in the upcoming elections it is going to be hard to choose, as both he and Dr Peter Phillips are strong contenders because of their positive attributes.

However, in this case involving Haiti this inaction does not feel right. This silence sounds even worse.

This is not the first time that the world has sat by and allowed racial cruelty. In the late 1930s, before the Jewish purge by the Nazis, there were atrocities being committed against blacks and Gypsies by that German regime. While the world — including the Church — stood silent, the persecution was extended to the Jews of that country and then the rest of Europe.

The eventual result was the Holocaust. Inaction is hard to forget, silence is harder to forgive.

Silence has become a common practice in our foreign policy. We failed to vote on the Jerusalem issue recently at the United Nations, and it cuts like a knife. I feel badly, but I understand why, even if I am ashamed. But I am confused about our response to the Dominican Republic's attempt to lighten the racial fabric of their nation with this deportation, and about our silence. We are not that 'bruk'.

England, believe it or not, has a similar policy to the Dominican Republic. If you are born there of a mother who is not British or a legal resident, you cannot get citizenship. Now, you can take them to court and win. Nevertheless, there is no guaranteed birthright.

This, however, is not specific to one particular country, unlike the Dominican Republic, which applies this rule to only persons whose parents are Haitian.

Often when I speak out in public against perceived wrongs or strike out against persons in other facets of my career, the lady in my life cautions me of the consequences. I always reply by saying: 'Are you sure you want to lie down in bed beside a man who does nothing because of fear?'

I will now ask our Government and our people — “do we want to be the generation who progressed, but were silent because of fear”?

This compares quite badly to the legacy of one of our former leaders. We do not remember Michael Manley for the war he and Edward Seaga fought on our streets, or for the capital flight the 1970s experiment caused. We remember him for his foreign policy, the National Housing Trust (NHT) and social change.

We have forgiven him for everything else. The Jews of Europe have never forgiven the world for their inaction. Let us hope the impacted blacks of the Dominican Republic forgive us for our silence.

Yet, there is still time to redeem ourselves. Prime Minister Holness needs to openly condemn the brutality that persons of colour and of Haitian descent are being subject to in the Dominican Republic. Forced deportation and the deprivation of rights of citizenship are tools of Nazi and fascists and have no place in the Caribbean community, or among any nation that hopes to be accepted by a civilised world.

Sports associations need to prohibit participation in events in the Dominican Republic and the rest of us need to cease to travel there.

There are many difficult decisions that this nation needs to take. This is not one, this one is easy. Condemn the deportation and racist practices of the Dominican Republic. And while you are at it, take back the damn medal you gave its leader.


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