I was at an event last month where the speaker told a story. He is a teacher, and one day in class, one of his female pupils said to him, ‘I bet you don’t know my name’. He replied, ‘of course I know your name, it’s…’ and at this point he drew a blank: he did not know his name. The pupil replied that it was ok, none of her teachers knew her name. The remarkably self-aware young lady then went on to explain that the teachers always knew the names of the most academic kids in the class, and they also knew the names of the troublemakers. The quiet middle kids who get on with their work at a steady pace merge into the background.
I was thinking about this story during the Twelfth when we had our annual routine of giant bonfires, burning effigies, election posters etc. If you step back a minute, the message we seem to be sending to Loyalist communities is that society only notices you when you misbehave. Any teacher will tell you that bad behavior is a cry for help, a symptom of something wrong in that pupil’s life.
Sticking an effigy of Noami Long on a bonfire seems the best way to get the media and society’s attention, or even the only way.
Likewise, on the other side, how much thought do we give to the working class of the New Lodge, Poleglass etc? It would be very easy to conclude that the way to highlight an issue in your area is to start a riot.
I am not condoning these acts, sometimes obnoxious behavior is just that. But if we are honest with ourselves, how much thought do we give the rest of the year to these communities? Our challenge as a society is to listen to and involve everyone all the time.
Instead of the media descending on Loyalist communities in July, maybe they could call in February or October to see what is going on. Likewise, they could spin around Twinbrook or the Bogside to see what is happening there.
Let’s try listening before people scream.