Thursday, September 6, 2007

577 People of Color for Social Responsibility

Message no. 577[Branch from no. 566] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Friday, March 9, 2007 3:03pm Subject: Re: Summary

Hi Daniela,

Thanks for linking environmental psych to the insights you've gained from other branches of the discipline. Of course they all overlap, as we are triangulating on the same reality (this is one reason we favor the "eclectic model" throughout our book.

I think the subjective experience of doubting ones self efficacy has profound effects on how deep our learned helplessness becomes, and how hard it might then be to unlearn it. I was in a discussion today with one of my former UCLA Global Environmentalism students who is visiting Egypt to intern with me this month. His mother is a Russian Jew and his father an American Jew (of Ashkenazi heritage i.e. holocaust survivors) and he asked me if I thought such a cultural heritage could help explain why he sometimes had low perceptions of self-efficacy. I told him that my observations of many of us who have suffered historical marginalization and been forced to emigrate or immigrate against our will, have suffered enslavement or humiliation because of our race, color, religion or creed often find it hard to believe that we can cope with further stressors. (See the Fredrick Douglas quote in anonymous that somebody posted). It can be decades or it can be centuries of abuse, but no matter the time scale, self doubt eventually creeps into the cultual psyche of the opressed.

Unlike many of my friends who have descended from culturally dominat groups or groups that have enjoyed power hegemony in society, I have found that I and my "friends of many colors" (as we called ourselves in our UCLA group "People of Color for Social Responsibility") all shared a greater tendency toward learned helplessness and low self esteem, even when we were doing what many considered "great things".

This is no accident -- conquerers throughout history have used the erosion of perceptions of self efficacy as a weapon against the groups they were conquering to make it easier to hold power over them. After so many generations of conditioning it is hard not to internalize the negative messages and stereotypes we are heir to.

I no longer believe there are different kinds of people -- bold people and shy people for example. I now observe that all of us have the capability to be bold or shy depending on our perceived self efficacy, but that we often differ in our response to what "mother culture" (our society) told us about the capabilities of "people like us."

One of the interesting things about observing Andy in Egypt is that there are so many similarities between American Jews and Egyptian Muslims and Christians - not only in terms of religion, but in terms of temperament and attitude -- and part of what we can all bond about (much as Blacks bonded with Jews during civil rights) is that we are all victims of negative stereotyping. It shows me that when Jews and other Semites in the Arab World come together they find they have a common enemy -- intolerance and oppression. This should be enough to end the conflict in the Middle East if we could just see it and throw away the learned helplessness that suggests this is an insoluable situation!

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