As a peace journalist, academic, and human being, is it incumbent upon me to speak out against prejudice and injustice, even if doing so could distract from the important message I’m trying to deliver?
A recent exchange with a colleague and a shocking video on NYTimes.com has left me pondering this question.
My professor friend, who teaches overseas, is boycotting academic exchanges and cooperation of any kind with Israeli academics and institutions. I wrote him to ask about why he’s participating in this boycott. He replied that it’s up to him to give voice to those who are marginalized, and to contribute to a process to declare “Israeli militarism and lawlessness unacceptable.” While I admire him for standing up for his principles, I’m worried that the controversy he’s creating is obscuring the exemplary, groundbreaking work he's done in his academic field.
A few days after this online discussion with my colleague, I viewed a video on NYTimes.com, “Gospel of Intolerance”, about the influence of the American evangelicals on the anti-homosexual movement in Uganda, where I have worked/taught extensively during the last three and a half years. The attitudes and behavior displayed in the video are vile: open discrimination and hatred being taught by self-righteous Americans (some from my home town, Kansas City) and embraced by Ugandans.
As I watched the video, I thought back to the exchange with my colleague, and to dozens of discussions/arguments I’ve had with Ugandans about homosexuality. In these private discussions, I have of course attempted to explain that homosexuality is not a choice, that there is no homosexual agenda (other than equal rights), etc. My arguments have fallen on deaf ears, even among educated, otherwise urbane Ugandans.
Despite the temptation to do otherwise, I have never pressed the issue, and certainly never brought up homosexuality in any of the 50-plus seminars I’ve taught in Uganda. I thought that pontificating about gay rights would only alienate my Ugandan students, and distract from the important peace journalism message I was delivery.
Now I’m wondering if I’ve been a coward.
I can no longer in good conscience sit back and do nothing while the seeds of hatred and division are sown. While I am in Uganda in March, I plan to gently present the subject of homosexual rights in my seminars and one-on-one with the Ugandans I meet. I won’t be pushy, but I won’t be a push-over, either.
Then, when my current peace media and counterterrorism project is complete, I will to seek another grant for a project emphasizing peace media and tolerance in Uganda, and perhaps elsewhere in East Africa as well. This project would be centered on using the power of media to empower the voiceless and marginalized (women, children, homosexuals) in Ugandan society.
Of course, I will be accused by some Ugandans (and others) of preaching my Western, pro-homosexual values. That’s probably true, but it’s no more true of me than of the evangelicals who are preaching their patronizing, Western, “our religion is the only true religion” values.
I know it will be an uphill struggle implementing a project of this sort in Uganda, and that I will probably be frequently met with open hostility. However, that seems like a small price to pay for standing up for, and teaching, what’s right.
--Follow me on Twitter @peacejourn and on my blog: http://stevenyoungblood.blogspot.com