Paul Simon, in the song, “Sound of Silence”, 1964.
Jeffrey here. Today Joey yields the floor.
As always, I speak for myself, not for Human RIghts First. My words and views are my own.
When the government of South Vietnam collapsed, I wrote to my member of Congress to complain that the U.S. was wrong to accept some refugees. I wanted us to accept all of them. (We didn’t.)
That was nearly fifty years ago.
In May 2018, on our Ride from Indiana to Louisiana, you met one of those refugees.
Trang is a proud American. He told me in his Alabama accent about his escape from Vietnam, and some of what he and his family suffered on the South China Sea.
Trang didn’t say what names he was called. Nor what the pirates called the people they murdered, what they called the women they raped, what they called the people they threw into the sea.
We can be confident that they weren’t called the n-name.
Ditto for the Ukrainians murdered by Russian invaders in the ongoing iteration of utter disregard for human rights.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Armenians mass-murdered by the Ottomans. Kurds mass-murdered in Iraq. Millions murdered in Ukraine by the Soviets. Millions of Jews murdered throughout Europe by the Germans and their allies. Tens of millions murdered in China at the hands of Japan and then under communist rule. Masses murdered in Burundi. In Cambodia. Five million murdered in Congo. Liberia. Haiti. Colombia. Myanmar. Tamils and Sinhalese murdered in Sri Lanka. Eritrea. Ethiopia. Somalia. Algeria.
They suffered as much as anyone can suffer. They died in the millions. And they died, as everyone must, one by one by one. The evil names they were called by persecutors and maimers and jailers and killers, were as evil as the n-name.
I have defended refugees—some of the ones who lived—from all these places, and more. Refugees familiar with slurs, each slur as bad as the others. I have been a small voice on their behalf when they face removal from our country.
With her poetry, Warsan Shire is a great voice for refugees.
Shire was born in Kenya in 1988 to Somali refugee parents. Her words capture the feelings evoked by 40 years of my clients’ testimony.
In ”Home”, Ms. Shire uses the n-name.
If ever I read this powerful poem aloud, I will say her words as she wrote them. I will not censor or bowdlerize her work. I will not silence her truth.
Because suffering is a cancer.
And when people suffer, silence makes that cancer grow.
by Warsan Shire
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
no one leaves home unless
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Oh Jeff, that was powerful and jarring and true. Thank you for your compassion and willingness to work tirelessly for a better world.
One of your most memorable posts. And they are all moving and full of so much ti learn and see with fresh eyes. Wow. What some people have been through. We need to keep remembering this, be grateful for our lives, and help others all we can. Thanks for being a recording voice for all of us.
So powerful. Nancy