Multiculturalism and Your Community
It has been more than fifty years since Japanese
American citizens were released from U. S. internment
camps. Nearly forty years have passed since the Supreme
Court ruled on bus desegregation. Three decades have
transpired since the first Civil Rights Act was legislated,
ending discrimination against blacks at the voting booth.
And yet fear and hatred of others, especially those whom
we perceive to be different from us, is still an active, and
in some communities a growing scourge. Throughout
America -- from crowded urban centers to sprawling
suburbs to rural farming communities -- people are grappling
with this pervasive, and crippling, problem.
Despite the differences in population counts, ethnicity,
racial demographics, unemployment figures or income
levels, communities are all struggling to answer the same
interrelated set of questions:
* How can we raise physically and emotionally healthy
children if we can't stem the tide of hatred and violence in
our neighborhoods and schools?
* What should we do to support families in their efforts to
raise children who will become productive adults?
* How can we create an environment that will reclaim the
growing number of children who are at-risk?
* Whose responsibility is it?
These unresolved questions affect every member of our
communities, regardless of whether they themselves have
children in their homes. As children continue to grow up
in this atmosphere of hatred, everyone loses. Yet these
social problems continue to proliferate.
Persistence of Social Problems
One common, yet simplistic view of solving these
problems is based on proximity. If people from different
cultures and backgrounds are placed in the vicinity of one
another and made to interact, so the theory goes, bridges
between people will be effectively built and cultural
understanding will automatically result. But problems
as entrenched as racism and cultural misunderstanding
that separate people from one another, sometimes
violently, will not disappear so easily.
Some other factors that prevent a quick fix are:
When problems have persisted for as long as these have,
they appear to be built into society almost as a natural
part of everyday life. Our society's institutions are
interconnected and the parts support one another. To
change any one element, we must change many others.
The prospect of a task so daunting leaves people
frustrated and confused about where to start, and
relinquishing responsibility for doing so becomes easier
than sorting out the complex relationships.
Social problems like these often persist because
someone is profiting from them. One group's loss can be
another group's gain, and not only in monetary ways.
Some changes are avoided because they threaten to
alter traditional authority structures; the continuing
resistance to women in management positions is one
such example. Other solutions may be rejected because
they are in opposition to a group's pervading attitude
that some of their members "deserve" more power or
privilege than others. Any threat to the profit hierarchy
that challenges its status quo will likely be rejected as
nonsensical or too radical.
* Need for immediate gratification.
We often give up on social problems such as these if the
solutions are not immediately forthcoming. Our growing
demand for quick cures is reflected in the funding cycles
of grants -- typically one or two years -- awarded to
address these issues. But it has taken generations to
inculcate the attitudes of bias and exclusion we face
today. It will take more than a couple of years to begin to
Hate Crimes and Gangs
As the demographic patterns of our communities shift
and our neighborhoods become more diverse, interactions with
people different from ourselves are becoming increasingly
common. And as we read the daily newspapers, watch the
evening news or even listen to the current rock and rap songs,
we don't have to claim membership in a minority group to be
able to track the increasing episodes of violence motivated
by group prejudice, otherwise known as hate crimes.
Hate crimes have a long history in the United States.
Historically, hate crimes flare up during times of increased
immigration and economic crisis -- when people feel that
their jobs, homes and lifestyles are threatened. German and
Irish immigrants were systematically terrorized, for example,
during the middle of the nineteenth century by those who
condemned them for taking away jobs. Similar harassment
was experienced by immigrants during the 1920's and by
minorities in general during the recession of the late 1970's.
But the climate of hatred is especially frightening today:
some of our most violent perpetrators of hate crimes are
young teenagers; extremists are given license to hate by
radio and television talk show hosts who foment bitterness
by giving air time to the most vocal bigots; and in the
current climate of intolerance and enmity, large scale urban
disturbances explode around the country, sparked by
some political and religious leaders who encourage us
to blame the poor and minorities for our social ills.
Today there is a hate group for every malcontent. The
Klan has groups spread throughout the country, from
the Union of Independent Klansmen in McIntosh,
Florida to the American Knights of the KKK in Denver,
Colorado; from the Flaming Sword Knights of the
KKK in South Vineland, New Jersey to the Invisible
Empire Knights of the KKK in ten states. Neo-Nazi
groups are multiplying, too, and Skinheads abound:
the National Aryan People's Party, Coeur D'Alene,
Idaho; the White Power Liberation Front, Binghamton,
New York; Aryan Revolutionary Front, Castro Valley,
California; Chaotic Brothers, Louisville, Kentucky;
Hammerskins, Elkhart, Indiana. Didn't get hired?
Blame affirmative action. Savings and Loan industry
failing? Jews must be responsible. Too many children
dropping out of school? Condemn those welfare mothers.
It must be all their fault.
Gangs represent another serious community problem, no
longer in the exclusive purview of the inner-city. They
cross economic levels, races and religions. Members of
many gangs -- some of whom still count their age in single
digits -- live in a universe that gives no value to human life,
does not hesitate to pull the trigger or plunge in the blade,
and seeks immediate gratification in their every move
because they have no detectable future toward which they
might strive. Gangs have assumed the social role function
no longer performed by families, and often give estranged
youths a meaningful identity which they otherwise lack.
That the number of gang members is dramatically increasing
speaks volumes about the pathology of their lives. But they
are the consequence of the situation, not the cause.
So what can we do to eliminate the growing gang and hate
crime problem? Imprison the most villainous juvenile
delinquents in each city? Pass new regulatory legislation
that demands harsher punishment for those who defy the
rules? Concentrate on stopping the supply of guns to
children? Put up taller fences, lock more doors, shake
down more kids?
Any of these solutions, if implemented effectively, will make
short term dents in crime and violence problems. But until
we rectify the underlying conditions that breed the hatred and
intolerance of one another, and build nurturing communities
which focus on encouraging the different people who make
up its fabric to live and work together in harmony, none of
these measures will be effective in the long term. The dire
circumstances of our children today is a gauge of our capability
to establish for them a supportive society and inclusive
future. Using that standard, there are some truly desperate
The first step in addressing social problems such as
these is admitting that the problems exist. It is easy to point
to our ethnic neighborhoods, or to the few diverse families
living in our communities, and claim that the problems of
racism, bigotry, hate crimes and gangs prevail in other
cities and towns but not ours. Upon closer inspection
we find, of course, that although cultural sensitivity may
be on the short list of community goals, it is not being
given the attention or resources it requires, and in fact,
race and ethnicity play a significant role in determining
who gets their basic needs met.
One way to start addressing the problems is to take a good
look at your community's available resources. They
could include agencies that work with children and their
families; businesses that are willing to get involved in
transforming the community; state and federal programs;
and parents and children themselves. And to motivate
people into seeing that change is possible, don't
overlook researching successful programs in other
communities which are similar to yours.
Community support is an influential factor in the levels
of resilience children develop, and most communities
already offer at least a basic set of services. Studies
have shown, however, that such services may not be
enough to meet the needs of a growing number of
children, and that they contain serious limitations:
* Most community services are crisis oriented, reactively
addressing the immediate needs of people who are
faced with problems which have already occurred,
rather than working proactively with prevention
strategies to reduce the need for intervention. Similarly,
many services concentrate on a family's weaknesses
rather than their strengths.
* Because of the growing need for community services,
decreased funding and the limitations of existing staff,
services are generally provided to families and children
rather than developed in collaboration with them. It is
far easier to make relatively rapid decisions about what is
best for children and families than to spend the
considerable time and energy it takes to learn about the
complexities of their problems, and what their own goals
and objectives might be.
* Availability is another critical flaw in the delivery of
community services. In some cases, the services people
need are simply not available. For others, even if the
services are available they may be inaccessible. And
there is no single agency responsible for helping them
navigate their way through the maze, either. For still
others, the services offered may be unacceptable either
because the services contradict their cultural values or
because acceptance of the services make the families
feel that they have lost control of their lives.
* One of the most serious yet most easily remedied ways
community service programs fall short is that they function
independent of one another. They have their own
missions, sources of funding, eligibility requirements,
guidelines for helping their constituents, and so on.
There is rarely, however a single coordinating
organization which could easily ensure comprehensive
and non-duplicative services.
If we want to create a system that corrects these flaws, we
should be listening to the workers who are currently
delivering the services and to the families themselves.
They know, and have not been reluctant to say, what
direction a new system should take and what its key
characteristics would be: a system that is comprehensive,
preventative, both family-centered and family-driven,
flexible, integrated and sensitive to cultural, racial and
gender matters. Such an infrastructure would go a
long way toward providing all children a cohesive
network of support, and would allow both parents
and community members to become effective partners
in their children's healthy development.
Communicating Across Cultures
Shaping a new form of inclusive community
interaction will take creativity, awareness, caring,
knowledge and sensitivity. It will take a strong
belief that the efforts will be beneficial to everyone.
And it will require learning new skills to communicate
Everything we do involves communication. It is the
medium for instruction, negotiation, interpersonal
relationships, and group interaction. It is a very complicated
process, and despite the ease with which we think we
can communicate, major problems still occur. One
classic example is the case of a United Nations computer
that was programmed to translate the saying "out of
sight, out of mind" into Chinese, French, and then
back into English. The result was "invisible insane."
These types of problems, and others of greater magnitude,
are not restricted to differences in language; they can
happen during any facet of the communication process.
Part of the challenge of communication is that it is
culture-bound: the way we communicate is a product of
our culture. Language habits -- like other manifestations
of culture such as eating habits, social acts, economic
and political activities, and so on -- follow patterns of
culture. What people do, how they act, and how they
live and communicate is both a response to and a function
of their culture.
Culture and communication cannot be separated. Not only
does culture mandate who talks with whom about what,
and dictates the form and pattern of that communication,
it also helps establish how people program messages,
the meanings they have, and the conditions under
which they may or may not be sent, noticed or interpreted.
It can be said, then, that culture is the foundation of
communication. As self-motivated human beings living
in a country where the rights of the individual are held
in the highest esteem, we may feel uncomfortable about
such conditioning. The fact is, nonetheless, when
cultures vary, communication practices also vary. And
if we can begin to understand these differences, we can
reduce or eliminate the anger, fear and unresolved emotions
that they cause.
With more than a million immigrants entering our country
each year, and with hundreds of cultures already represented
in our country, it is critical that we learn to build meaningful
relationships with our neighbors despite cultural and
language differences. It is time to stretch our cultural
comfort zone, adapt to the change that is around us, and
learn to benefit from the richness of our diversity, for the
sake of our children and their future.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Hate Crime and Gangs
* Encourage people to report hate crimes by posting
permanent notices in conspicuous areas about how to do so.
* Establish and maintain a central depository for reports
of bias-related incidents and hate crimes. Publish updates
to the depository regularly to keep the awareness level of
hate crime high.
* Train school counselors in techniques of victim-assistance
and/or victim-referral to outside sources.
* Assist all community organizations, including religious
congregations, women' groups, service clubs, etc., to
develop a plan for responding to hate crimes.
* Work with your local government to establish contingency
plans to respond quickly to incidents and prevent escalation
into broader community conflicts.
* In order to be prepared to respond effectively to gangs in
your community, develop a balanced anti-gang "readiness"
program that includes both awareness and resistance to
school violence and intimidation. Parent involvement,
along with school and community commitment, is essential.
* Implement a gang-prevention program in your community
recreational programming available to all youth in the
employment training and development;
peer counseling program;
training for service providers to at-risk youth;
publication of a cross-agency resource directory
of services provided to at-risk youth in the
a parent education component.
* Consider the context of communication for the relevant
cultures and adapt the message accordingly using the
appropriate type of courtesy and respect for the country,
culture and beliefs.
* Keep your message concise, and make sure it is clear.
Use logical transitions and include necessary details so
your message is complete.
* Be aware of different cultural rules for attentiveness
during conversations, for distance between speakers and
for entering conversations that are already in progress.
* Remember that dialogue is more confirming than
monologue. Dialogue requires a genuine involvement
with the other person. To engage in a dialogue you
must be willing to compare the ideas, opinions, beliefs,
feelings and attitudes of others with your own.
* Similarly, acceptance is more confirming than
interpretation. When you draw inferences and reach
conclusions about the other person's remarks that go
far beyond anything that person thought that he or she
had said, it will be difficult to resolve any differences
there may be between you. When you respond to their
statements by genuinely trying to understand their
thoughts and feelings and by reflecting that understanding
in your responses, you show acceptance for what they
are saying. You need not agree with them to be able to
NOTE: The text above is from the recent book, Teaching Peace: How to Raise Children to Live in Harmony -- Without Fear, Without Prejudice, Without Violence_ by Jan Arnow (Perigee/Berkley, © 1995 Jan Arnow, ISBN #0-399-52155-0, $12.00). In each chapter there are additional charts, quotes and sidebar sections that have not been uploaded. If you are interested in seeing these additions, please contact the author directly (email: firstname.lastname@example.org); (snail mail: 2025 Maryland Avenue, Louisville, KY, 40205); (telephone: 502-454-0607); or buy the book!
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