‘Speaking out’ as one alternative to self- and interpersonal harm

tell your stories



Knowing-and-not-knowing – is ‘denial as “the need to be innocent of a troubling recognition” where we seem to have access to reality, but choose to ignore it because it proves convenient to do so.’            (Cohen, ‘States of Denial’, 2001:33).

 ‘Rather than simply failing to notice something, denial too often involves an effort to actively avoid noticing it.’ ( Zerubavel, 2010:33). 


Powerful self- and social, silencing mechanisms

Thinking deeply today about HOW the denied sustained impact of  denied sustained micro and macro level victimisation, becomes an additional burden and one of the most powerful self- and social silencing mechanisms.  The onus falls on the victimised person to

(i) render the victimisation visible

(ii) deal with the denial that the victimisation is happening

(iii) render the denial visible to the denier while simultaneously trying to

(iv) show that the victimisation is socially or institutionally patterned.

(v) trying to convince others who share a social location with the perpetrator that the victimisation and the denial are operating together, with the latter eclipsing the former from view

(vi)  telling your story over and over to different people who are mandated to deal only with one part of your story

(vii) try not to ‘walk away’ and leave others to render individual experience visible as part of an institutional pattern.

(viii) realising that people are struggling to understand how to deal with something they are used to treating as an individual level/relationship problem and they discover your story has ‘no place to land’.

When  micro and macro levels of  denial that come in various forms, in a 1984 Orwellian sense, are overlaid onto our socially patterned experiences, many victimised individuals exercise the ‘no choice’ option of employing their own silencing via a variety of defense mechanisms.

I boldly hazard the guess that EVERY SINGLE oppressed person, if provided with an embracing, non clinical environment,  would be able to give multiple examples from their visceral, tacit, explicit and vicarious knowledge that they have simply been socialised to suppress. ‘Ag, just ignore them’ . Even the most radical activists ‘choose their battles’ – which suggests that we know our way around ‘our’ minefield.


These experiences and triggers are as diverse as the individuals who acknowledge or deny them. These learnt self protection routines can give rise to masked symptons which are also readily diagnosed as individual level pathologies by university trained professionals who in turn exercise their own denial by ‘filtering out’ the direct impact of living with uninterrupted structural violence.  The scholarly names for it are ‘being professional’,  ‘being detached’, ‘being neutral’.  To show emotion, is to be termed ‘unprofessional’, ‘biased’, ‘too involved’.

Multiple and simultaneous incidents of victimisation

Literature on how people who are subjected to multiple and simultaneous victimisation  adjust over time, by learning how to automatically ‘filter out’ certain stimuli, is non existent as far as I know.  Most of the literature in relevant disciplines, do not connect the range of masked features associated with denial, nor about denial of our own denial.

Or as Stanley Cohen suggests in ‘States of Denial’ – ‘knowing and not knowing’ has many features.  While he focuses on the denial of people who are bystanders and benficiaries,  the focus here is on the unresearched space between ‘resilient/resistant’ and ‘pathological’ responses as set out on page 13 in this Guide which we groundtruthed and calibrated during 2016 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312587585_Open_Guide_to_a_Deeper_Wider_and_Longer%27_analysis_of_violence

Writing and telling our stories work against being pathologised for a healthy maladapted response

It doesn’t matter how we tell installments of our stories, or whether it makes immediate sense or not. If all we can manage is to write down words in a notebook, a fancy journal or a public blog in our non Queen’s English or language of our choice, we should consider doing it.

What matters is that we deal with ‘our realities’ that we need to learn how to ‘theorise’.  This resonates with the clear call by Professor Mahmood Mamdani in his recent Africa Day Speech (2017) ‘WE NEED TO THEORISE OUR OWN REALITIES’.  A must watch http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/4bbe368041480ca6b4a4bd47c5f82b19/Prof-Mamdani-delivers-Thabo-Mbeki-Africa-Day-Lecture-20172605

Learning to theorise

We can learn to theorise as we go along.

In a society where daily triggers are invisibilised, victimised people run the risk of being regarded as a ‘nuisance’ and/or ‘singing the same song over and over for x number of days, months, years.  What remains invisibilised, is the ‘still present past’ as others try to wield their amnesia against those they term ‘too intense’, ‘too serious’, ‘too angry’, ‘too analytical’, over-thinkers, and other gently silencing mechanisms.

What is worse?  To be silent and well liked by all while we watch the years, no, decades, no, centuries go by?  While we close our eyes to the actual hunger and degradation of the descendants of colonised, oppressed and enslaved people?  While we try to rationalise the increasing privilege, on all fronts, of beneficiaries of our dehumanisation?  And our own contradictory filled lives as we try to be ‘human’ within the framework of a global capitalist system underpinned and driven by conspicuous consumption and ‘exclusivity’?

Or to risk the irritation and ire of those who prefer an Orwellian world where a ‘coherence of blindness’ is consensual?

But in the meantime, …


‘You are bothered,  disturbed, even outraged, about what is happening, but for many reasons (fear of standing out, powerlessness, self-protection, the absence of a visible solution) you remain silent.’ (Cohen, 2001:24).

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