|Web Magazine Online|
|By Dawn Miralle|
Realities and the Pending Violence: What Are Youth Learning from Us about Race Relations in L.A.?
Visiting the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles more than a month ago reawakened in me the raw fear and horror that I experienced almost five years ago in '92. Once again, I watched familiar news clips of the beating of a black man (Rodney King) by police officers, and the beating of a white man (Reginald Denny) by young black men.
The racial split in L.A. has not significantly changed since 1992. One on one, we've developed a tolerance for each other; we can live near each other, work around each other, and have relationships with each other. But violence against and between people of color and among the poor are not unusual when we are forced to compete for minimal resources as if we were animals.
Violence becomes easier to inflict when we become objectified in this manner. Racism in our country fosters attitudes of violence that are encouraged by media and our culture. We all live with and amongst each other, but we objectify each other in fits of rage and violence that stem from our frustrations with the Rat Race.
But my reactions to the video footage at the Museum of Tolerance created in me a growing concern for the youth in this country. For those who are now teenagers, what impact did the 1992 L.A. Riots have on their views on race relations? Are these children continuing to objectify others and continue the cycle of rage and violence? What are these youth learning from us? To answer these questions, I decided to set up an "interview" with my friend's little brother, Santiago, age thirteen.
Santiago proudly identifies himself as a "Mexican American." He was a child of seven at the time of the 1992 Uprising, and I wondered what kind of effect it had on him down the road. I can't imagine what it would be like having the uprising as one of my earliest memories as Santi had. At age seven, he remembered not wanting to go down the street from his home in Pacoima to play baseball because he was afraid he would be burned by the riots.
To my surprise, Santiago remembered basically everything that I could recall from media coverage. However, as our talk continued, I discovered an extreme sensitivity in discussing racial groups, or even in identifying people by race. Quite simply, Santi didn't like to identify people by their race because he didn't want to offend anyone.
Also, I saw something common to my own childhood -- the sense of being an outsider in one's own country -- as Santi continuously referred to white people as the "Americans." At the same time he proudly identified himself as Mexican-American. Thus, in this young boy of thirteen there was a certain realization that the laws of the land legally applied to him, while at the same time he made a distinction between himself and "Americans."
Santi also displayed a healthy suspicion of media bias. "[The media] shows footage to get ratings, and everybody's interested in violence," he stated. "If they show what's really going on, [viewers] will get bored and change the channel. They show gruesome things people want to see."
His remarks produced mixed feelings in me. Although I was glad to see a conscious understanding that the news is not reality (a perception my generation seems to have), I was reminded of my original fears. The increase of footage about violence on television and movies desensitizes viewers to the reality of the pain and suffering that results from this violence. With children being the number one watchers of television, it seems that they would be the most affected.
Moreover, the frustration we feel of having little control over larger events in society will also most likely passed along to our children. Add these to an already shaky ground for race relations, and I'm sure we'll see another uprising in our lifetime. These so-called riots are not random and undirected acts of violence.
I now understand why my greatest fears are for the youth. We will pass on to them what was taught to us-- a passivity in dealing with society's problems. But we are not as helpless as these mindless screens make us feel. Because the core of societal problems seems to be everywhere, the first and surest place we can make an impact is within our own homes. And that is only the beginning.
(Dawn Miralle is a junior majoring in American Literature.)