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Bridging the Gap of Silence

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

I was not planning to write publicly again so soon, but it seems that too many people of goodwill are being silenced. And I feel a strong need to bridge the gap of silence, particularly in the International Affairs community I belong to.

It should not be controversial to take a stand for human life. But this is exactly what the culture of dominance rooted in colonialism has created for us, not only here in the United States, but everywhere that colonial powers rule. I observe a collective gaslighting happening, a deceptive and coercive questioning of our own reality by those who hold more power than us.

And that gaslighting is causing too many of us resort to violence against each other, or resort to fear-based silence, when what is sorely needed are vociferous demands for an end to all violence. Am I the only one observing this?

Where do we start?

A collective demand to end all violence

I have worked for decades in the International Affairs sector and never have I sensed such a deafening silence regarding the urgent need to protect innocent lives on the path of state-sponsored violence and destruction. I am not naïve to the fact that the United States government’s (USG) unilateral response has a lot to do with the silencing of people who have a deep sense that every single life is sacred. Being based in the nation’s capital of the US, the majority of my friends and colleagues are either employed or contracted by the colonial military machine that is the USG, and I fear for what it means for our so-called democracy that it has become too risky to advocate for human life.

We must and will loudly demand for an immediate ceasefire of the Israeli state's hostilities against the Palestinian people and for an end to the violence by Hamas against Israeli citizens. We must join our voices in solidarity and shared humanity to demand an end to all violence and to the injustices that lead to violence. It is impossible to achieve peace through violence; it never has, and it never will. Violence only begets more violence. State-sponsored violence should be the most easily interrupted, if it is true that states are operating with the wellbeing and demands of their citizens in mind. Nobody has as much power to immediately end hostilities and thousands of deaths as do the governments of Israel and the US.

The assertion that it is impossible to achieve justice and peace for all human beings is a lie rooted in the colonial paradigms of separation, supremacy, scarcity, and suspicion, which are perpetuated by systems that benefit from violence. It is false that my freedom can come at the expense of someone else’s oppression. Our planet has sufficient resources for all (if they were not being hoarded by a few) and we as human beings have sufficient non-violent communication tools to ensure the viability of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

End false binaries to hold multiple truths

A toxic environment enmeshed in false binaries is at the root of our collective inability to breathe deep and muster the courage to say what needs to be said. It should not be controversial to say that Black lives matter, because it has never meant that white lives do not matter. It should not be controversial to say that the Palestinian people deserve freedom and self-determination, because it has never meant that the Jewish people are not deserving of safety and peace.

We can never reclaim our full humanity by dehumanizing someone else. Dehumanizing you, dehumanizes me. We should be able to hold multiple truths at once.

Observe power imbalances and Euro-centric patterns of violence

As a racial justice professional I am trained to observe and name power imbalances. One needs not have special training to observe that the combined military powers of Israel and the United States means the almost-certain ethnic cleansing or genocide of Palestinians in their homelands, clearing the way for what is in essence another European occupation. One that just so happens to be strategically placed in the region of the world chosen by Europeans as a homeland for the Jews, quite likely due to its proximity to the one non-renewable resource that perpetuates racial capitalism and the destruction of our planet: oil.

I propose we would all do well to remember that the events that led to the creation of the Israeli state originated in Europe. Euro-centric supremacist and intolerant views are what led to the persecution and murder of millions of Jewish people, forcing them out of their homes and into foreign lands, including those already inhabited for generations by Palestinians. It is important to bring this problem back to its root because toxic Euro-centric supremacy is also behind the occupation and colonization of the Americas (Turtle Island and Abya Yala) and all other territories forcefully and violently occupied by Europeans around the world, and which inflict daily violence and discrimination against people of color and ethnic minorities.

Jewish people should have a place in the world to feel safe. And in fact, that place should be the whole world. Colonial powers want us to believe that one piece of land surrounded by barbwire, pretending that an apartheid can be a democracy, can lead to peace and security. The question we should be asking is: How do we create a world where Jewish and all religious and ethnic minorities are embraced with love, and are truly safe?

Going from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and seeing all children as our own

The ways in which non-white communities and children have been demonized and criminalized by the US government and the mainstream media is a clear indication that we need a radical shift to a different worldview. I hope you will consider this a call to awaken to the patterns of violence and exclusion emerging out of supremacist cultures and systems of dominance that propagate violence against ‘the other’ everywhere they go. State-sanctioned violence that supports colonialism is deemed as 'necessary,' while violence that fights for justice and for freedom is deemed as 'terrorism.' This has got to stop.

African, Indigenous, Arab, and Asian cultures all have much needed wisdom to contribute to our multicultural society. I speak from my own lineage as an Afro-Mayan woman that we need to start shifting our thinking from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ We need to start seeing all children as our own.

We, who are deemed as “other.”

We, who are the excluded and oppressed.

We, who do not enjoy the benefits of safety and prosperity that white supremacy bestows on only a few.

We, who will continue to be pinned against each other by the system and its media.

We, who have committed our lives to the common good, cannot allow them to make us even more complicit in the inhumane violence that too many are suffering from.

We, who could be next in line when Euro-centric supremacist violence comes calling, must speak up.

Afro-Indigenous wisdom leads us away from false binaries of ‘either/or’ and ‘us v. them’ and toward the truth of our interdependence and our interbeing; toward the wisdom of the both/and, and the wisdom of the ‘We.’ WE as one human race. Our calls for justice are not about going back to a romanticized pre-colonial time, they are about moving forward together toward equity, justice, and peace; from here, from where we are, with all of us onboard regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other way in which we have been separated from each other. The very wisdom of the cultures that Euro-centric supremacy has tried to silence are exactly what is needed at this time to begin to reduce harm and move towards justice and peace.

We must be willing to expose and transform the colonial lies of separation, supremacy, scarcity, and suspicion, and center love for all in our quest for justice, if we are to come together in solidarity and build the collective power necessary to secure justice, peace, and freedom for all.

“The children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe; and I am beginning to suspect that whoever is incapable of recognizing this may be incapable of morality.”

James Baldwin

Connecting the dots: Trauma not transformed gets transferred

A similar brand of fascism that led to the exodus of Jews out of Europe is re-emerging not only across Europe, but also in the right wing of politics in the United States. None of us considered ‘other’ by the Christian patriarchal euro-centric worldview are safe if we do not come together in solidarity against this particular brand of Euro-centric intolerance, hatred, and violence. This toxic ‘othering’ also harms people of European descent, including those who are women, queer, trans, neuro-expansive, living in poverty, living with a disability, unhoused, or otherwise marginalized.

I want to be clear that this is NOT a call to anti-European sentiments or pointing of fingers to individuals. On the contrary, this is an invitation for all of us to observe how systems and powers of governance rooted in supremacist values harm us all. I loudly demand justice and peace from a place deep in my own roots, which are African, Indigenous, and European. And I speak with the moral authority of someone who loves humanity passionately and who has found a way to reconcile and find peace with the part of my own ancestry from the part of the world that does not see me as one of their own (though interestingly both people from Africa and Indigenous to Abya Yala claim me fully as their own, despite my European ancestry.)

Trauma plays an important role in these conflicts. As a descendant of survivors of the Maafa, the holocaust of enslavement of African people, and as a descendant of Indigenous people displaced and massacred by colonization, I am keenly aware of how unhealed trauma can cloud our judgement. I can see in the ways that some of my Jewish friends, deeply traumatized by the Holocaust, have been manipulated by leaders like Netanyahu, to believe that they can only be safe through the ever-growing illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. I can see it in the ways that some of my Palestinian friends, deeply traumatized by the Nakba, are unwilling to discuss the safety of Jews until their own safety is secured. I have myself had to wrestle with feelings of anger, rage, and grief at the ongoing criminalization and brutalizing of Black bodies by police, and have had to call myself back into my own heart consistently through trauma-healing practices. Trauma that is not transformed gets transferred. Only transformation and healing can end these tragic cycles of violence.

What does this mean in practice?

For employers, it means protecting the right to free speech for anyone who stands for justice and an end to state-sponsored violence. It means investing in trauma-informed and equity-based leadership training for all their leaders.

For managers, it means understanding that the violence occurring right now is impacting all of us who have survived the violence of occupation, colonization, and supremacy. We cannot continue ‘business as usual’ and thus providing time, space, compassion, and trauma-informed approaches that are responsive to staff’s human needs.

For individuals, it means using our voices to demand for an end to all violence, particularly state-sponsored violence against innocent civilians, but also any acts of violence resulting in the loss of innocent human lives. Bringing our individual voices together can make them travel quite far.

For everyone, especially those who hold power and resources, it means challenging patriarchy by lifting and elevating the voices of women, especially mothers, who have been completely left out of the equation on issues of global leadership and peace-building, and explains so much of the toxic masculine violence some of us are scarcely surviving and too many who did not or will not survive it.

My late beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hahn once said “{Hu}man is not the enemy. Our enemy is hatred, anger, ignorance, and fear.” I invite us all into a principled struggle against the real enemy (hatred, anger, ignorance, and fear) and a vociferous demand for justice and peace for all.

Justice and peace are possible, yet they must begin with me. And with you. And with us.

P.S. I have been deeply moved by the hundreds of Jewish people who marched and protested at the US Capitol, and the hundreds who were arrested for standing with Palestinians. This is a source of hope for our world, and my prayers and support are with them, and with all who are suffering and grieving today.

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