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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Essay

Curing Hate Before It's Too Late

May 20, 2000|JULIE FLAPAN | Julie Flapan is director of the Anti-Defamation League's a World of Difference Institute's Southern California Project

The fatal stabbing of Raul Aguirre of Glendale's Hoover High shocked many but the motives surprised few. The tensions between Latinos and Armenians in that community have existed for years abetted by a toxic silent complicity.

Throughout Los Angeles, racial and ethnic hatred has become a byproduct, not of war, but of life. Whether the conflicts are embedded in opposing gang affiliations or entrenched in ethnic differences (likely to be both), the common denominator of violence is rooted in hate.

Hate violence does not occur in a vacuum; it exists on a continuum. Our diversity reflects a variety of perspectives, opinions and ideas about ourselves and about each other. Leading experts on child development argue that children acquire negative attitudes toward "others" at a very young age. These attitudes evolve into stereotypes and when left unchecked, ignorance grows into prejudice, hardens into hatred and explodes into violence. The deep-seated animosities of racially motivated violence throughout Los Angeles County are a tragic testament to this evolution.

As individuals, and as a community, we can break that pattern. In fact, Raul Aguirre made a valiant effort to do so when he intervened in a fight to save a younger student from getting attacked. We ought to draw courage from Raul's actions and take a stand against the prejudice and hatred that killed him.

Ironically, the administrators at Hoover High School were preparing to do just that when the recent violence occurred. Efforts were being made to address the roots of the ethnic tensions and to develop strategies to prevent and respond to the hatred that has existed in the Glendale community. Groups of parents and students, representing the diverse community, have all been outraged by the existing tensions and have been desperately seeking ways to stop the hate.

A group of Hoover High School students, parents and teachers enlisted the support of the Anti-Defamation League's a World of Difference Institute to address racial and ethnic tensions at the high school. Although a student leadership group formed to address diversity issues was active in the community, they knew there was more to be done. Back in March, Hoover applied and was awarded a fully funded grant, "Stop the Hate," which offers a comprehensive two-year training and education program for administrators, parents, teachers, students and community members. Young adolescents thrive on opportunities to discuss current and controversial issues. They need to challenge their observations of the actions and inactions of adults around them. And we adults also need to be challenged: to recognize discrimination in ourselves and others, to confront our own biases, and to examine the subtle messages we send to our youth when we remain silent in the face of bigotry and injustice.

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