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Silence of the majorities


February 2016
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Media today makes plenty of noise. Media is greedy for news, information, and angry when it doesn’t get noise, but on silence it says nothing. Trump constantly refers to the silent majority, a group that speaks, can speak, has spoken, will speak. And which votes, so has veto power. This silent majority is not at all silent.

But there is a silent populace whose story media doesn’t like to tell. Not the voluntary silent type, of sages sitting and meditating: Buddha under the Bodhi tree, or Gandhi keeping days of silence. Gandhi’s silence and silent fast were a strategic defense against the British masters; it was their solidarity and resistance, which was complimentary to speech, and which didn’t need words. This silence was noise and strength against the British. But forced silence is the kind of silence that media doesn’t like to tell: the silence of women who are shamed or dishonored or marginalized peoples.

Forced silence goes beyond muteness to speechlessness because of rape or other dishonor in the case of women. Because of loss of virginity, which is a girl’s entire identity or worth in some cultures. A silence that could speak, even protest, but whose speech is like a dying spark without the fire. A silence desperate for speech. For listeners. But the absence of which condemn them to more silence. An eternity of silence. And if, pray tell, they try to speak then men silence them with threats, blows, stonings, imprisonment, rape and other violence, which further rob them of an identity, memory, and make them even more vulnerable to silence. This forced silence is culturally constructed.

What do we do with the silent? The dishonored? The child bride? The raped? The mutilated genitally? Widows in some places? The displaced? The old? The deterritorialized? The marginalized? The subaltern? The homeless? Whose silence is just another form of pain?

The more we become digital the more they become silenced. The more we don’t converse with them, but instead with the Internet, the more they become silent. The speed and noise of the scientific & information age silence the old, the forgetting, the shamed or the dishonored into helplessness and despair. Sometimes their silence grows like a cancer until it is too late, and we never hear the stories of the silenced.

“There is no such thing as the “voiceless”. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard” [Arundhati Roy]. Roy says this in reference to Indian women and Dalits, but this applies equally to all who are forced into silence everywhere. For whom voluntary silence has become their defense, not because they have nothing to say, but who, due to habit, have lost their tongue and need storytellers to tell their stories, and to break the silence. NYC subway ads and announcements say if you see something, say something. There are many ways to say something today with omnipresent media: post, tweet, retweet, share, blog, speak up or act out, or stand up for those silenced, as this young man does in this video:


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