Jan 24, 2013 - Issue 501

Can We Raise a New Generation

of Non-Violent People?

A Poem and an Essay

By Joe Navarro

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As a young child I thought

I was an unhyphenated American

I was John Wayne, growing

Into my role, a real-American

Transitioning to a teen, who

Grew up in the other-America

Becoming the other-American

Whose life was consumed in

Survivalist strategies, where poverty

Was one welfare check away from

Extinction, where hue mattered

In slums on the other side

Of humanity, where I

Became a hue-American

As American as tacos, frijoles

And cornbread, with a scent

Of Apple pie on the tip of my tongue


That was before I became a

Conscious-American, where

Consciousness begged the question,

Why hast thou forsaken me, America?

Then I became an Angry-American

A Mexican-American who sat

At the back of the bus

Contemplating racism, discrimination,

Ghettos, barrios, poverty and oppression

Then I became so angry at injustice

I had been accused of being un-American

Cursing in English and espaņol at Klansmen

Wrapped snugly in stars-and-stripes

Devotion to yesterday, and slave-owning

Presidents, and institutions that constructed

Glass ceilings, while thumbing their

Noses at drowning aspirations

As they taunted...Prove it


That’s when I became an analytical-American

Asking all the complex whys about a

Complex mega society that is America

Wondering what makes me look foreign to

Them, wondering what type of American

I am with so many hyphens,

I have evolved into a multi-hyphenated

American, navigating the social hyphens

That I’ve inherited from the

Socially constructed legacy defining

All Americans, every

American is hyphenated, from

The moment of birth to the

Last breath that extinguishes life


Let me see if I can avoid the

Tangles of hyphens as I describe

Myself: American; real-American; other-

American; hue-American; conscious-

American; angry-American; anti-

American; analytical-American; Chicano-

Mexicano-Indigenous-La Raza-Bilingual-


A multi-hyphenated-American...

Orale, that’s who I am

Can We Raise a New Generation of Non-Violent People?

The debate over gun control has become a central issue in many people’s minds, especially with President Obama proposing changes to gun laws. The conservative right-wing is accusing Obama of moving to disarm everyone. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is leading a media campaign against the president, while they seek to defend the continued sales of military-style assault weapons.

The mood of people in this nation is affected by the high number of deaths associated with military-style assault weapons and murders in general. The Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in December, where 20 children and 6 adults were massacred not too long after the Aurora movie theater assault in July, has greatly increased awareness and interest in this issue. Most people are looking for a reasonable response that takes into consideration the question of selling military-style assault weapons, clips and magazines that carry large amounts of ammunition, and the need to limit weapons buyers so that people with mental illness cannot have access to weapons.

The NRA has approached this issue as the need to address mental illness and increasing security at schools. In other words, having wide-range access to assault weapons is a non-factor, according to them. “Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership. Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority.”

But if we look at their role historically, the NRA has made conscious efforts to prevent the public from understanding the severity of gun related violence in the U.S. A New York Times article that discusses the lack of research on gun violence sums it up this way, “Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work.”

President Obama’s recent initiatives that address gun laws provide some restrictions on access to weapons and limitations on which weapons can be bought. Much of it addresses restrictions on assault weapons purchases, restrictions on persons who can purchase weapons, increasing penalties, improving research, school safety and funding for treating people with mental illness. During his press conference, President Obama challenged congresspersons to choose children’s safety over getting good ratings from the NRA.

Obama has never opposed the sale of weapons or made any proposals to disarm Americans, yet that is what he is accused of. His proposals make some significant changes, but fall short of encouraging a major culture shift in America.

We live in a violent nation. The genocide of Native peoples, the use of brutality and chains on African people, the policy of Manifest Destiny (presumably a God-given right to annex Mexico and Latin America) used to militarily invade Mexico and steal half of its territory, and the use of military force to colonize Island republics such as Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico and other nations are all examples of force through violence as a policy, historically.

This nation’s history is rooted in expansionism and rugged individualism. We live in the most armed nation in the entire world. Our children are constantly reinforced with this logic as they are taught that we are the most powerful nation in the world. This nation’s power was achieved, not by persuasion and cooperation, but through military might. Violence is an important part of our culture.

Additionally, violence is perpetrated historically and in contemporary times by hate groups. Any time right wing groups disagree with people, they use violence, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Minutemen and Neo-Nazi’s, who terrorize and murder non-white people and Jews. We have seen this violence from opponents of women’s reproductive rights, when they assassinate doctors and bomb medical clinics, and violence is evident in anti LGBT sentiments as LGBT people are beaten randomly. Wives and girlfriends are murdered by their husbands and partners routinely throughout this nation.

The issue of pervasive violence has to be addressed. The arming of hate groups must stop.

We currently spend tremendous hours training children to be good test takers in school. We focus on rote memorization of disconnected facts. Students are stuck in a drill and skill rut. They are not being prepared to become problem solvers and analytical thinkers. They are fed a restricted flow of information, disguised as social studies, giving them a sense of false patriotism, which is defined as blind loyalty to military aggression internationally. 

Our children need to spend more time on problem solving, analyzing, civics and ethics. A balanced curriculum gives children academic skills and social developmental skills. We focus on competition when children need to learn cooperation. We live in a constantly changing society that needs children who will grow up into adults who will get along and work for the common good of society.

In addition to what President Obama is proposing I would add the following:

1.    No military-style assault weapons for anyone.

2.    No tolerance of domestic violence.

3.    No tolerance of attacks on people because of their race ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.

4.    No weapons for anyone associated with hate groups.

5.    Education reform that includes problem solving, analytical thinking, civics, ethics and cooperation.

6.    Teach U.S. history in a way that explains the role of imperialism and colonialism as oppressive policies and acts.

7.    Teach the history of genocide, slavery, land theft, discrimination and racism.

8.    Teach students to appreciate the contributions of all people to this land and to this nation.

9.    Work toward a cultural shift in general that is exemplified by people working for the greater good of all people, instead of to the detriment of others. 

10.     Work toward a shift in the media, which profits by making movies and games that exploit and promote violence, to become a media that promotes positive civic and ethical values.

We often hear that we must learn from the past to prevent future errors (I’m paraphrasing). This is true today for us, a society of people who are concerned about the overabundance of violence. Change is necessary, but policies without a cultural shift in attitudes about violence and about each other as human beings will be very limited in its effect.

BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Joe Navarro, is a creative writer, poet, educator, husband, parent, grandparent, and activist for social change. Click here to contact Mr. Navarro.