A Different Story

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
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I was relieved that the June 13 issue’s article on Palabra made a reasonable attempt to side-step the naive ethnocentrism that steers the basically well-meaning course of Santa Barbara’s “community of authority.” Notwithstanding its irresistible addiction to the sensational that ties the tale of criminal charges brought against an individual to a story about Palabra’s basic mission, the article managed to leave at least a few inches of room for questions about what a realistic strategy of intervention for youth at gang risk would actually entail.

Gang culture is yet another expression of a growing list of “fundamentalisms” that define societies today – an an extreme response to real or perceived inequities that disconnect factions, and to clashing values that mutually demonize. Whether religious, economic, political, racial, or cultural at root, the transformation of a fundamentalist way of thinking will not come from the “outside-in” approach, except to pray that the “outside” at-large does its part in listening, learning, and making flexible, responsible decisions. In all fundamentalisms — including gang culture — changes away from extremism toward moderation and adaptability will come from the trusted progressive voices “inside” the culture, itself; these feisty few stand a chance to bridge the divide between the institutional and the aberrant by speaking the language and sharing the pathos of the dispossessed through genuine life experience. Then, and only then, will potential for dialogue ensue.

I don’t know all that much about Palabra except that, as a white, privileged Santa Barbara resident, I participated recently with quite a few of its youth members in a Quaker-based training called the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). J.P. Herrada hand-delivered these young men and women and kept them coming to the training for a period of many months. I had always prided myself on being a liberal, alternative, progressive thinker and activist, better versed than most in matters of diversity and intercultural land mines. But interacting as a peer with these teens during AVP’s brilliantly designed exercises (that originated and continue to address nonviolent nuances of motivation, thought, behavior, and community-building among hardened inmates in U.S. prisons) humbled me.

I witnessed these kids’ initial sullen, angry resistance, then felt my own fear, aversion, and swift retreat into frustration and stereotyping. As the training went on, I watched as we eventually found ourselves in the same boat, on the same side, even if only for a structured moment. I resisted, they opened up. They helped one another by modeling safe experimentation in an alien situation. They helped me get unstuck. They humorously indulged us as the “other,” and we came clearly to respect that their challenges to our so-called prevailing system represented less their damaged identity as a class and culture than their unique perspectives as persons with their own narrative style, experiences, preferences, and creative imagination. It was then that I realized that what Palabra (yes, with J.P. Herrada at the helm) was doing was enlisting and evolving these kids from the “inside-out, which is the only direction through which intra- and inter-cultural extremes will begin to be reconciled.

So – duh! – let’s maybe not make Palabra’s job a lot harder by setting up the gun-shy Santa Barbara public to retreat into this “reverse whistle-blowing” implied distrust of a necessarily imperfect attempt by gang-savvy influential role-models to reach their own kids and bring them to the table of our shared concerns.

Cut the two stories apart, Independent journalists! Gang criminality, for all its horrors, is not actually on the same page with gang lifestyle reconstruction, so please don’t confuse them on yours.


Dr. Barbara E. Fields is the executive director of the Association for Global New Thought.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Sorry Doc, no matter how smart and educated you may be, there's a whole chorus line of "experts" here that will say you got bamboozled. No matter what you think you know, there are several blowhards here who are willing to tell you that a bunch of political marionetes actually know better - resistance is futile, go ahead and tell her so, "experts"!

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
June 25, 2013 at 11:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

i think its i do with the reason not to utilize both.

by the way, can we fire up the g.i as soon as. enough talk. more action.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
June 25, 2013 at 11:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ah, lawdy, such eloquence! But you know the old saying about a room full of chimps bangin' on typewriters - just keep pluggin' away - maybe you'll get lucky someday and squeeze out a coherent thought!

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 8:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

John Howard Griffin's book "Black Like Me" was written in a very different time, 1964, but I think the concept of walking in another's shoes that he accomplished as a white man who appeared black is very relevant today. It wasn't an experiment that provided any knowledge regarding the behavior of people of different cultural and economic backgrounds or differences in value systems, since it was limited to altering only the very superficial characteristic of skin color, but I know that's sufficient basis for stereotyping by our local "community of authority", and that breaking out of the box that bias traps us in requires a lot of personal strength as well as pain - it's much easier to be a reflection of the person that others who are limited by their bias see. No policy that builds walls and alienates is good for any of us.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2013 at 9:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Side note:

Isn't it interesting that almost all of the graffiti in Santa Barbara is done or inspired by:

1. Illegal immigrants or their children? (based on the gang signs/names written and the language used)?

2. Gangs made up of illegal immigrants or their children? (or non-gang imitators from the same ethnic groups)

3. That no one wants to talk or write about this because the white establishment and agitating hispanic "community organizers" will label the person racist for bringing common obeservation and facts to light that make a certain group look bad (unless it's whites)?

4. That the Independent ignores arrests of Hispanic's who are caught defacing property with graffiti but purposely showcases a white kid recently who was caught on Chapala (part of the small % that makes up the non Hispanic, non-Illegal Immigrant or their children portion of who commits this offense in SB)

5. That poor immigrants and their children, gang affiliated or not, from Europe and the Far East in the early and mid-20th century did only a small fraction of the current rate of graffiti being done by the groups described in #1 and #2.

6. That graffiti exploded in the 1970's after Keith Herring began his sidewalk and other public property graffiti "art" campaign and was celebrated for it? - possibly normalizing it?

willy88 (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 1:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Grafitti keeps property taxes down.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 1:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

just xenophobia and Know-Nothing detestation of immigrants by Willy... Oh yea, by the way, the City of SB is over 55% Latino.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 28, 2013 at 1:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Eloquently ethnocentric I must say. I find it interesting the contrast between the American culture where there are pale faces and American culture where there are no pale faces.

Don't go investigate!

Paradise doesn't need a parking lot!
Yes lawsy, someone does need to bring up the constitutionality of gang injunctions again...

PaleFacesGoHome (anonymous profile)
June 29, 2013 at 4:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"They paved Paradise, and put in a parking lot". -Joni Mitchell- (Big Yellow Taxi)

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2013 at 1:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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