By Charlotte and Harriet Childress
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
The experience of other groups who are consistently victims of abuse--such as women and the gay community--can help clarify why many African Americans are upset over this slaying. And why we need to address systemic racism.
Credit: Werth Media on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)
(WOMENSENEWS)--The black community wants people to know that the Trayvon Martin killing was not an isolated incident, said Beverly Bond, a Women's eNews 21 Leader in 2011 and founder of the mentoring group Black Girls Rock.
"This is an injustice we have seen in our community over and over and over again. It is amazing to me that people don't know why we're upset," she told Al Jazeera on July 21.
For those who don't understand why the isolated incident assessment doesn't work for African Americans, the creation of a scenario with actors from other groups who are consistent victims of abuse may turn on the light bulb. Role reversal can be a powerful tool to build common ground. Since all hierarchies have similar patterns, people who are not African American can use their own life experiences in other hierarchies to relate to what African Americans are saying.
A woman knows that if she were walking alone at night and a male stranger started following her in an SUV, she would quickly assume that he is stalking her because of her gender. She knows from experience that attacks on women are not isolated instances, so she has learned from an early age to watch out for men who would harm her.
The epidemic of sexual assault in the military shows why the "isolated incident" model keeps the status quo. Historically, the military's primary "solution" focused on each attack separately through counseling and medical attention for female victims. Thanks to the efforts of several Congresswomen, such as New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and California's Barbara Boxer, the military is beginning to address the cultural causes of sexual assault of men against women.
Gay men quickly learn that they must be on guard because of cultural homophobia. They know that if they were attacked, they would be one of many, and not be an isolated victim.
Historically, the response to school bullying focused on individual incidents. If a principal got the bully and the bullied to shake hands, the conflict could be considered settled. Now many realize the need for a new approach and to shift the focus to the cultural issues that lead to bullying.
African Americans are saying we need to look at the systemic racism in our society, and not at Martin's death as an anomaly. In order to solve widespread attacks based on race, gender, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics, we must stop diverting ourselves with talk of isolated instances and instead focus on cultural origins.
Charlotte and Harriet Childress are consultants, authors and college faculty who have researched, written and spoken about issues related to social and political change for more than three decades. They are authors of the book, "Clueless at the Top: While the Rest of Us Turn Elsewhere for Life, Liberty and Happiness." Their website/blog is www.cluelessatthetop.com.
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