Sunday, December 21, 2014

Can We Stop the Mistreatment of Women and African-Americans?

There has been much in the news these past few months about both the abuse of women by men of all sorts, and the mistreatment of African-Americans by the police.  To the extent that articles about these issues examine the causes, writers blame respectively an ongoing misogynistic attitude among many men and racism within the police force.

While both of these statements are undoubtedly true, duh!, the real reason lies deeper.  It lies in the insecurity of men.  (See my post, “ The Root of all Abuse and Violence - Insecurity,” 1/7/2013 .)

The reason why so many men abuse women … whether it’s campus date rape, military sexual assault, spouse abuse, or men watching violent porn … is that it’s a way for them to exercise power.  Man is raised in a way that makes him insecure.  And insecure people often seek to compensate for or mask their insecurity by exercising power over those who are weaker than they are.  That together with misogynistic feelings creates a perfect storm.  The result:  abuse of women.

Why do many police, regardless the city, routinely mistreat African-American men in so many ways, running the gamut from verbal abuse to chokeholds and shootings?  The answer again is that, in addition to black men being looked down on or mistrusted due to racist feelings, police as men get off on exercising power over others.  And they know that they can exercise that power vis a vis blacks almost with impunity.  Again, we have a perfect storm and the result is abuse.

I agree with many commentators that an important part of the answer to this deep societal problem consists of  education, or better put, re-education.  In the case of police it’s relatively easy, at least in a logistic sense, because you have a captive audience that can be forced to attend classes.  For men in general, that kind of approach is obviously not possible.

But even if you do re-educate police or attempt something similar with men, the real obstacle to changing behavior is that their attitudinal perspective stems from the messages they have received throughout their lives regarding either women or African-Americans.  And that message can effectively be transformed only by altering the social context within which men and police exist.

How does one begin to alter the context of racism?  Since the police are to a certain extent a culture unto themselves, one can change the culture of the organization, top down.  Which will certainly help.  But if the broader social context remains unchanged, once someone has been taught to think less of, or be afraid of, or hate people of another race, it’s very hard to change that except through an enlightening personal experience, one on one.  (Although even that is not a sure thing … there was a saying in Nazi Germany that every Nazi had his Jew.  That personal experience, however, obviously didn’t impact the larger negative attitude.) 

Changing the social context of racism is an issue that has bedeviled educators and social thinkers.  It almost requires starting fresh, with a blank slate.  Which is why the only real hope lies in educating children, and seeing that at least within the schools, they are exposed to nothing but respect for those who are different from them.  We can’t control what they experience at home or on the streets or even on television or on film, but we can control what they experience and are taught in school.

The same answer applies to altering the misogynistic, love/hate attitude that many men have towards women.  This is nothing new.   It is not a feature of our modern culture.  It goes back centuries and millennia … all those years in which women were basically chattel and had no rights.  My word, women weren’t even allowed to vote in the United States until 1920!

Here again we must start in the schools.  Boys must be exposed to nothing but respect for girls and women.

In both cases, one can expect that there will be instances of children acting in inappropriate ways, with a lack of respect and even violence.  Any such behavior must be dealt with in an appropriate manner, which does not exclude punishment of some sort, but there must be more than that because people do not change thought patterns or even behavior solely because of punishment.

So far I’ve only addressed the education aspect of solving, or better put, ameliorating, this problem.  What about the underlying factor of man’s having been raised in a way that makes him insecure?  

Assuming that to some degree you agree with this assessment, explained in the post I referred to earlier, you may well ask how this issue can be addressed.  Once again, the answer lies in our children,  If children can learn to be insecure, they can learn to be secure.  Insecurity is not the natural human state.

The difficulty in bringing about such change is that we are the result of an unending cycle of insecure people raising insecure children, who go on to become insecure parents, and on and on.  To break this cycle, we must make prospective and existing parents aware of this problem and encourage them to take steps to both raise happy and secure children and at the same time make their own lives better as well.  

To that end I have written a book, Raising a Happy Child. While based on Buddhist principles, the lessons it contains are applicable regardless of one’s religious affiliation.  There should be a huge parenting outreach through churches, schools, and marriage license offices to begin orienting parents on how to raise happy, secure children.

Raising a Happy Child is available in both softcover and eBook formats through Amazon and other online book-retailers and through your local bookstore by special order.  For more information about the book as well as the Table of Contents and sample text, go to www.ThePracticalBuddhist.com.