Jan Arnow

"TEACHING PEACE" 

Chapter 6

 

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:

 

* Interconnections.

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.

 

* Profit.

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

 

show results.

 

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

times ahead.

 

Community Services

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

across cultures.

 

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

that includes:

recreational programming available to all youth in the

community;

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

community; and

a parent education component.

 

Commnication

* 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

understand them.

 

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: jarnow@iglou.com); (snail mail: 2025 Maryland Avenue, Louisville, KY, 40205); (telephone: 502-454-0607); or buy the book! 

This is copywritten material. Please do not distribute without the author's permission.

 You May Read The Entire Book Online

"Teaching Peace"

Chapters 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - Introduction - Bibliography

 

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