This week lets look at how we can shift ourselves and the culture together. It is one thing to think our way through, and another to act. If we are unwilling to act, to “get our hands dirty” cleaning out the cultural sediment that has settled in our consciousness and our institutions, then effective change can not truly happen. Culture is an organic, living thing and elements like race and class are lenses through which can examine and promote change. In looking through multiple lenses, we can begin to develop a more holistic approach to the inequities of our culture.
Part of what makes racism so confusing is there are other conflicts wrapped up in it. We see the obvious evidence of racism and we all react to the ongoing evidence of racism in our culture with anger and loathing. Often this feeling is outwardly directed, “its the police, they are the problem”. “The president is a racist and so are his supporters”. “ I’m not a racist but they are” We are quick to point the finger at anyone but us. Yet we all evolved in the same cultural river together. Our culture is a lot like the Hudson river which was at one time so polluted with PCB’s you could not swim in it. In fact, a friend of mine once did swim in it back in the early ‘80s and came out with a big blustery sore on his shoulder. When you swim in the culture you cannot help but have some taint. The Hudson also has had an amazing recovery in which today you can eat the fish that swim in it though not too often or too many. Like our nation which in its founding still permitted slavery, the Hudson is much improved but still tainted.
The United States was born with a tension between the ideal and the survival mind of the world. The survival mind tells us that when it comes to me and mine, anything goes. When we look at the world as a place of limited resources that only the best and the strongest can obtain, we are engaging in a form of survival mind. There is not enough and so I will ensure that my line, my clan, my race, my people, my class, will overcome- at the expense of others if need be. That opens the door for justifying greed, lust, pride, envy, etc.
The ideal is embodied in the declaration of independence. There are four basic principles in this declaration:
1) All men are created equal
2) All people share the same irrevocable rights
3) The source of governmental power is from the people
4) The people have the right to alter or abolish the government when these rights are not protected.
With the unparalleled recognition of our polluted culture, we are at a historic flashpoint between our own fear, anger, and selfishness and the ideals upon which our nation declared its freedom and began. Get it, this is a truly exciting opportunity for us as a nation, a people, to both change ourselves, our government and our institutions. We won’t succeed unless we also shift and change our culture.
A useful perspective on cultural change is that there are 2 basic dynamics under all cultural conflicts, independence, and interdependence. In their book 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are, Hazel Markus and Alana Conner identify 8 areas of conflict:
You could add to that:
In fact, Markus and Conner wrap these categories into theirs but this is not a book review. Rather we are focusing on the premise that there are multiples flashpoints for cultural conflict of which race is one. Racism, sexism, classism, any ism you can think of are all intertwined in one culture. In cleaning the Hudson, it was not enough to stop dumping industrial waste into the river, but actins needed to be taken on multiple fronts to restore it to health. The police actions we are all protesting against are more than racism, they embody the whole culture and we won’t change the police department until we begin to embrace and erase multiple facets of our culture.
We cannot afford to take the position that one person, one group, one institution is to blame. We have the president we have because we allowed it, we have police brutality because we bred a culture in which violence is viewed as a consistently effective solution. We have a culture of inequality on multiple fronts, race being the most obvious one because we allow it. At the heart of that permission is the wish/hope/desire that “daddy” will fix it in the form of the government and governmental action and how crazy is that given that we created this government?
We are dependent and interdependent with the government, meaning we create and guide it as much as it shapes us. We are dependent and interdependent with one another whatever that looks like for you, race, class, creed, sex, gender. We are all swimming in the same water together, and addressing the inequities and flashpoints of our culture means changing not only ourselves and the structure of the police, but also equipping those who are, have less opportunity and find themselves literally under the heel of the culture to have greater opportunity.
Its a matter of recognizing that every human being in our nation is equal and has the same rights and as such deserves the same opportunities to develop themselves, their bodies, minds, and spirits. Not only do they have the same rights, but we need one another, we are interdependent. The recent government has proved, if nothing else, that one perspective can not effectively lord or bully one point of view or perspective over another. That was born of the independent perspective “I’m right, your wrong, your weak I’m strong” as opposed to a more interdependently influenced idea “We rise or fall together”.
Let’s start with education. There are a million proposals that the Police across the nation need to be educated on cultural difference, on alternative dispute resolution. What if we raised education across the board in the United States? What if we made it not only possible but desirable for every child in this nation to get a college education? The police are told they need to have more interaction and partnership with less wealthy communities. What if we all worked to uplift these communities? Personally? How might we institutionalize cross-cultural experience?
Right now the military is made up mostly of the less privileged elements of our society. We send the less educated and hungrier elements of our nation to fight for us. Why not require one year of national service between high school and college with a choice of military or national, internal “peace corp” type service. There are a million ways to cut this up but fixing the police alone will not work. You can only shift an institution as far as the people in it will allow and the makeup of the people is dependent on the culture. Let’s focus on change on a much wider level.