As social creatures, human beings love keeping up appearances. Poor people find a way to buy their kids brand new shoes for a new school year. Middle class people manicure their lawns and upgrade their homes based on the behavior of their neighbors. Wealthy people make sure they are seen doing the right things with the right people. We all participate in putting on a show at some point or another. At what cost and to what end do communities and countries focus on appearances influence the quality of the community and the integrity of the nation? When do we draw the distinction between wanting to fit in and covering up problems that desperately need solving?
One of the oft cited reasons why West Indians should ignore social problems like unsolved rapes and murders as well as homophobia and a slew of social issues, is the taboo of airing our dirty laundry. Many Caribbean people will deny problems exist even if they recognize that they do because admitting to a social problem is akin to being unpatriotic. Since many people view our nations as a “product” to be sold to Americans and other first-world people, they believe that admitting to social ills counts as a form of tarnishing the brand of the friendly, peaceful, docile, indolent Caribbean.
Our islands are not actually commodities. A reputation or perceived reputation is immaterial. The human beings that live and suffer under and acclimate to oppressive policies are not however capitalist creations. The choice to prioritize the “appearance” of a country’s international brand over the well-being of its people paints a vivid and revealing picture about how we view other human beings. Keeping up appearances becomes malignant when appearances matter more than the health of the society.
If you’ve been accused of making your family or community “look bad” for speaking up about injustice, your critic has demonstrated where their values lie. Where do yours?