Community Culture Clinic

Beyond Secrets, Silence and the Mask

Part 1: Regulation or Liberation?

Those of us who do not follow norms risk being alienated.  Often, we stay “in the shadows”, in secret. Our activities remain shrouded, silent, taboo, unspoken, un-interrogated.

Let’s face it. Secrets are the fabric of society, Stu. Of any society, but especially ours…

Gabriel in Glenville Lovell’s Simone’s Place

In the Caribbean, keeping secrets, or ‘remaining silent, is a presumed norm. ‘Silence’ can be deployed as self-alienation, perceived as necessary for us to strive for excellence in our chosen field. It can also be invoked to disconnect us from our humanity and to internalize our emotions. We also tend to self-censor to avoid alienation or “social death” (Patterson).

‘Silence’ can resonate from an initial ‘hush’ as we enter the room. It may be invoked when we remain ‘stoic’ in the face of prejudice. We sometimes choose to remain silent to avoid or divert accusation. Periodically, in order to create (or even survive) we may distance ourselves from others or from society.

‘Silence’ has been deployed as a regulating tool, familiar in other colonizing systems. As a Doctor of Psychiatry, Frantz Fanon, in his “Letter to the Resident Minister” in the Governor General’s office of Algeria in 1956, defended citizens who were deemed unstable for speaking out against the mainstream.

…there comes a time when silence becomes dishonesty…

Fanon 64

‘Silence’, as consent, is subverted, retained as a cover used to shelter and protect the status quo, rendering other expressions inferior by comparison. However, during Caribbean enslavement and colonialism, ‘silence’ was also engaged as camouflage, resistance and sabotage against “being ‘kept’ and ‘kept down’…” (Beckles 230).

Photo from The Reel Network

I find myself … in a world where words wrap themselves in silence, in a world where the other endlessly hardens himself

Fanon 229

Fanon’s comment articulates the alienation, isolation and loneliness that some of us experience. We endure in silence, often invoking a kind of heroic or martyrdom profile. Some of us risk marginalization to advance our calling, “wear our isolation like a badge of honour” (King). By doing so we embrace silence’s complexity, its subversive intent to engage in resistance and liberation.

Many of us use ‘silence’ to construct, embody and negotiate identity. Our achievements, courage, self-respect and freedom are sometimes highlighted but often masked. It is the price paid for pursuing our passion beyond conservative risks. ‘Silence’ mediates and negotiates societal obligations and taboos as we “go against the grain”, to resist scrutiny and oppression.

‘Silence’, often used as a tool to buffer and deflect, also offers strategies of resistance. A survival mechanism, it can create enough normality to cushion the turbulence caused by society’s uncertainty. Being mis-cast as tolerable and powerlessness may offer us the opportunity to advance our cause of change and revolution.

Dr. John Hunte PHD Cultural Studies UWI Cave Hill

Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte.

Make sure to check back next week for part 2!


Beckles, Hilary McD. “Black Masculinity in Caribbean Slavery.” Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses. Ed. Rhoda E. Rheddock. Kingston: UWI, 2004. Print.

Fanon, Frantz. Towards an African Revolution. New York: Grove, 1988. Print Glissant, Eduardo., “History, Histories, Stories.” Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Virginia: U of Virginia, 1999 (1989). 61-96. Print.

King, Philip          Personal Interview July 2008

Lovell, Glenville Simone’s Place  New York: Goodreads    2014       Print

Nettleford, Rex. Caribbean Cultural Identity: The Case of Jamaica. New York: Markus Wiener, 2003. Print.

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard UP, 1982. Print.

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