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Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Baltimore Riots: On paying respect to 'respect'

by Azly Rahman
published in OPINIONS
Malaysiakini

'Respect' - a word that keeps on begging me to write about itself as I was driving down the highway coming home from my weekly lecture to young, enthusiastic, and bright American teachers learning about teaching in urban schools.

Yes, we talked passionately about poverty and the Baltimore riots and of deeper struggles of those dehumanised by the system and also about those who abuse the system that offer them the stairway to the American dream.

A complex subject that has plagued Americans, especially.

At the core of what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore, Maryland, is the issue of 'respect'.

One doesn't need to have 'Asian roots' to have a deep sense of respect, dignity, and perseverance through hard work - I have often told my students.

Poverty is not a licence to lose one's dignity and to raise children without dignity too, I have always insisted.

Look at the filthy rich, as you'll see what money can also do to human dignity or the total absence of it.

Money, as it cannot buy love, also cannot buy respect.

Hope and hard work may be the best antidote to fight against those using the Deficit Theory in Education to structure educational systems pillared upon arrogant knowledge that dehumanises, divides, and deconstructs the self into a confused and mangled being in a material world.

'Respect' - we are lacking these days in all spheres of life because we can no longer see and feel what it looks like.

Here, I am always reminded by the old school wisdom of respect, from any culture still not destroyed by the waning effect of postmodernism and hyper-modernity and the dominance of meaninglessness.

Erosion of culture begins with the erosion of identity, blurring of one’s personal and family history, and the diminishing of the ethics of authenticity.

The issue of parenting

In the Baltimore riots that set the city in flames as a consequence of police brutality and a sense of the rise of enmity between the forces of the law and those they are supposed to protect, there is a breakdown of respect as well.

Both - the people and the police - are living in a state of paranoia, in a city plagued with poverty and a people whose young ones are also plagued with the pride of the philosophy of gangland.

That may be the case of the ongoing complexity of the issue of race in America.

But the issue lies also in parenting. Not just poor parenting, but virtually no parenting at all, in many cases. I have seen them all, I should safely say.

"... What is your child doing at 12 midnight or 1am? ...
"... Where were you? "

These are some of the early prognostic questions on the issue of parenting.

'Did you know that your son - a 15-year-old, is now a gang member?' is another favourite question a New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, or Baltimore police officer might ask a mother.

Again, 'respect' comes into being - of oneself, of parents, of teachers, of the school, of other people’s property, and the list goes on and on, and this includes my personal all-time favourite kind of respect my mother taught me - respect for books.

Most often, though an 'American' (of the ageing hippie and transcendental-type perhaps) I consider myself now, my thoughts, as I deliver my lectures to fellow Americans would always go back to my beloved country, Malaysia.

As if at that moment I was zooming in on a village in good old Majidee, Johor Baru, via Google 3-D technology, and thinking about the word again: Respect.

My fear is for it - this thing called 'respect' - to be lost indefinitely. And a Burning Baltimore may be a Madly Mangled Majidee in JB!

Take good care of your children. Instill respect in them at a very young age.

Poverty is no excuse to cultivate dignity lightly.

It is just a test of one’s economic and entrepreneurial creativity in the face of social and political adversity.
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