By NICOLE BURROWS
I am often asked, in real time:
“Are you gonna write about this?”
“Are you gonna write about me?”
Just so we’re clear ...
If I’m related to you, you’re fair game. If I date(d) you, you’re fair game. If I pass you on the street, you’re fair game. If I saw you from a mile away, you’re fair game. If I never met you, you’re fair game.
I’m a writer. Writers are word artists; they paint with words. I paint with my words. And I paint what I live. My writing wouldn’t be authentic otherwise, and my opinion wouldn’t be my opinion.
And that leads to ...
Them: You’re biased.
Me: Yes, I am. I write my bias. I was engaged to write my bias on a variety of topics. Your bias may be different from my bias. And that is entirely acceptable.
Will we always agree? I hope not; that would be too dull for me to endure. Can we have a discussion anyway? I sincerely hope so. Because that’s why I do this ... to bring the topics and relevant discussions to the table, to the mic, to the loudspeaker, so we can put it all out there and grow from it. And maybe grow up, too, because of it.
Whenever you take the time to send a message in response to my writing, I try my best to take the time to respond. If I don’t, there is a good chance it ended up in my spam mail. The more likely reason, though, for me not responding to your message is that you go off the wall, through the roof, into another galaxy, far removed from conscious and coherent human dialogue.
For the most part, and as long as they make sense, I like to read your comments on my writing and I notice all of them on Facebook, even though I may not reply. I admit, Facebook is not where I spend most of my time. I only run a Facebook page for this column so you can easily read previous articles with a direct connection to The Tribune’s website.
However, if you take the time to write me an email at the address published with my column, I will make the time, however long it takes, to send you a reply. When you send a message, I don’t need you to agree with me, but I do need you to be sensible. If you’re not being sensible, I won’t read past the first few words of your message, which is a shame because I really do want to read your message, for three main reasons:
1 There is a possibility that there is something significant I can learn from you.
2 There is something I forgot to consider in my writing and you may remind me to address it later on.
3 There is something of concern to you which you may suggest that I write about at another time.
That being said, if you write me utter nonsense, not only will I not respond, but I will call you out on it, and post it on Facebook, and send it out to all of my subscribers as an example of what not to say, do, or be.
Fortunately, most people who respond to my articles have something sensible to say, even if they don’t share my opinion. Even when they don’t like my opinion, I want to hear theirs. It’s like collecting thoughts on a very long journey through many unique places. And those thoughts are the colours I use to paint words with; the more of them I collect, the more vibrant and colourful my writing.
Lately, when I travel to new places, I get copies of newspapers so I can find out what’s important to people in different cities. Because I write a column, once I’m done reading a new town’s inventory of hard news, I turn to the opinion section to see what my “competition” is writing about, and how they are writing about it. I want to find out what their readers respond to. Nowadays, most of these printed articles are available in the online versions of the newspapers, and, of course, there is where you find the readers’ comments ... their opinions of the columnist’s opinion.
In my recent travels - and on the advice of a terrific host - I’ve taken to reading the opinion section of The New York Times. Funny thing, this paper. It sells out quickly, and early. You could find yourself driving around hunting for a copy of it with an equal chance of finding it as of not finding it, and steadily diminishing chances the higher the sun rises. From what I can tell, it is still one of the best newspapers in print, even though when you glance at the typeface it looks a bit like 1950s script. In a way, I think that’s some of the lasting charm of the New York Times; it transcends every decade in spite of its age.
In last Friday’s edition, there was an opinion article entitled “What Iran Fears from Reporters Like Jason Rezaian”, by Azadeh Moaveni, op-ed contributor. It’s an interesting article which I would recommend you read, especially if you’re a journalist, and not because it centres around a journalist accused of being a spy in a foreign country, for the US government, but mainly because it makes you think about how The Bahamas compares in the country line-up and how the political (and theocratic) directorate of a country can impact upon what a journalist writes or the freedom with which they write.
In this particular article, I identified a few themes which made me think (again) of my own country’s trajectory and the room for growth of investigative journalism. Perhaps, even more than the intriguing espionage factor of the article, I found more things to ponder in the article’s readers’ comments.
On this article by Moaveni, who was both liked and disliked, agreed and disagreed with in the comments section, there was one reader’s comment that stood out more than the others.
A reader identified only as ‘Kalidan’ wrote: “... Having run away from a country that claims otherwise to be a liberal democracy (India) but is otherwise a lawless land, with a super powerful government and bureaucracy that exists to impoverish people. Despite the power to do good, it is largely devoted to making life difficult for average citizens. Now, India is engaged in harassing free thinkers. It happens even when there is a hint of theocracy.”
That caught my attention, and, if it caught yours, then please let me know. It also raised many a question for me.
Who are the free thinkers in The Bahamas? Where are they? What does their future hold? Will they have to “run away” from their country (like Moaveni), at some point in the future, to hold on to their ability to think freely?
Is The Bahamas a real democracy, or do we just pretend it is because it’s good form to do so?
How powerful is the government of The Bahamas on the world stage? And, by extension, is The Bahamas powerful enough to chart its own course for the good of its own citizens? In reality, does The Bahamas government have the interest of Bahamian citizens as a priority? Can you see that? Can you see where the government of The Bahamas is making real efforts at improving the lives of Bahamians everywhere? What are those efforts? Are they sincere? Are they strong enough to cross over from “making every effort” to “implementing effective policies’? Who will hold Bahamian leaders accountable to ensure that this happens, if the free thinkers “run away”?
When will Bahamians really begin to hold their government leaders accountable? When will they really unite under one colour/flag to make the changes that need to be made for the wellbeing they all require? Are Bahamians capable of doing this, when they are not self-accountable? They tried it before under a banner of fighting for racial freedoms and equality, wrapped in the independence movement, but can they do it again so that maybe they actually become free and more equal this time around? Or is the government en route to further separating and impoverishing Bahamian people, socially, economically, academically, and mentally?
Is the excessive pageantry and bureaucracy in The Bahamas the cause for the lawlessness that prevails in many circumstances? How do we, as Bahamians, work to make government become meaningful again? Are we alone in our struggle, or is there another country in the world undergoing the same changes, possibly offering us the inspiration to make changes where we live? Can we make those changes while we live in the midst of the chaos that needs to be changed?
How much is our theocratic past and present crippling our future? Does religion make us better as united Bahamians? Does religion and tradition decrease crime and violence? What is the correlation between the two?
I hope the formal and informal journalists among you will help to ask and answer these questions of and for the Bahamian people.
I hope the Bahamian people will ask themselves these questions, because, if they don’t, they won’t truly know what they want, or where they want to go, much less how to get there. And, if the people don’t or won’t ask these things of themselves, they surely won’t ask the same of the leaders elected or appointed to get the people where they want to go, which, ultimately, would make accountability (and good governance) a pipe dream.
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