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How Boys/Men of Color Can Un-Learn Violence By Understanding Its Roots

Recent events involving African-American NFL football players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson
were a missed opportunity to provide a teachable moment for America. Both men were
widely criticized for their individual choices and behaviors, ones that led to a woman being
battered and a child being abused. For the most part, however, there was no productive,
public dialogue about the underlying issues and stigmas.

Using physical abuse to resolve relationship conflicts or punishing children with switches rather than other, more measured forms of discipline are learned behaviors – and therefore can be “unlearned.”

Over the past two decades, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct research directly with
hundreds of low-income boys and men of color (BMOCs). I’ve heard their reasons for their
behaviors, even as l listened with an ear toward developing shareable counter-arguments to
their perceptions and the barriers to healthy behavior change. Men in domestic-abuse or
corporal-discipline situations have modeled how others “handle their business” with anger,
fists and domination. They see it in popular culture—on TV, at the movies and woven into
music. They see it in their families (often passed on from generation to generation). Black
men who use violence as a means of control may justify their actions by saying, “that’s how I
was raised.” Others have come to believe that it is a cultural artifact among African-Americans.

Some men of color have internalized violence based on their interactions (both historical and
contemporary) with mainstream society. Enslaved Africans brought to this country as free
labor learned quickly that violence by those in charge was a way to control their actions—and
even their thoughts of freedom. The seeds sown in this ugly period of American history are
paying some disturbing dividends.

We have to think about what kinds of messages boys and men of color receive, at the home,
community and society level, about what it means to truly “be a man.” In a nation where
they often feel disempowered in the workforce and other venues and have had to face both
overt and covert racism, sometimes these men choose negative ways to exert power and
control in their “castle.” Harsh discipline of children going back to slavery and into the civil
rights movement was seen by some parents as a way of protecting them from the even
harsher consequences (including run-ins with the police and even death) of “acting out” in

We now need to create reframing strategies that enable prevention and recovery messages
to be effective in changing abusive behaviors among some men of color. To do so, messages
must be culturally relevant and engage men in a way that is not attacking, shaming or
creating more stigmas or negative stereotypes about this population.

I have personally witnessed young men internalize and act on messages when they are culturally relevant (and reflect oral communications culture), put in the proper context and provide a clear understanding of the costs-benefits of making a change. Once men are engaged properly (without talking down to or judging them about their current views), they, in turn, will generate the kind of word-of-mouth that creates norms change and stigma reduction within the community at large.

Holding an open and honest dialogue and creating culturally relevant reframing strategies
can encourage males who have exhibited violent behaviors to get treatment. Otherwise, we
run the risk of driving domestic violence further underground, as both victims and
perpetrators are silenced. Widely disseminating recovery messages at the community level
can also serve as prevention for young men who are just starting their own families or
engaging in intimate relationships. We can model what healthy parenting behaviors and
partner relationships look like.

We must go beyond the hype and understand what men like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson
need in their lives in order to react differently in moments of conflict. What’s the recovery or
prevention messages men like these could internalize and share with their peers? My goal is
to be part of the solution. We can identify and replicate promising approaches and culturally
relevant behavioral-health intervention strategies that can change male behavioral norms in
communities of color.

Ivan Juzang is the Founder and President of MEE Productions Inc., a nationally recognized communications and marketing firm specializing in public health messages for hard-to-reach audiences.

What people are saying

2 thoughts on “How Boys/Men of Color Can Un-Learn Violence By Understanding Its Roots

  1. Sundiata Keita says:

    nigga please. tell black women to stop putting black men in situations where our livelihood, their meal ticket, is being threatened by the beast.
    if these black women would have acted respectfully, them brothers wouldn't have lost a dime. but nope, theyre so dumb, they mess up theyre own piggybank.

  2. Ann Eds says:

    All True:

    –Psychopathic Racial Personality.
    Mon 29 Dec 2014 by Abagond.

    The psychopathic racial personality is a psychological disorder common to most white people. Not just White Americans but Europeans and Arabs too. We can tell because they act in a psychopathic way towards blacks:

    – self-centered
    – disregard for the rights of others.
    – violent
    – unfeeling
    – almost complete absence of ethical and moral development.
    – make commitments they do not intend to keep.
    – get angry when their integrity is called into question.
    – unable to accept blame or learn from experience.
    – lack of discipline or respect for authority.
    – take advantage of blacks without any guilt, anxiety or threat to their self-esteem.
    – unable to love deeply leading to sexual inadequacy – leading to rape, castration.
    and hypersexualization of blacks.
    – White behaviour towards blacks goes far beyond anything that can be accounted.
    for in any other way.


    The sustained sexual atrocities committed against the Black race by the White race has no parallel in history and there is no scientific explanation except under the rubric of psychopathology.

    The trouble with psychopaths is that most of them seem like nice people, at least at first. Unlike psychotics and neurotics, most can function in society, therefore few get sent to prisons or mental hospitals. And yet because they lack much of a conscience, they are capable of great evil and violence.

    They are beyond the help of religion and science, which they just twist or overlook.

    This disorder is what drives racism: “the oppression and exploitation of people because of their race.”.

    It even leads to black-on-black violence:

    Historically, the European system has encouraged the killing of Blacks. Because Blacks have been led to believe that they are part of the psychopath’s system, they simply follow the practice.

    Psychiatrists, both black and white, are taught to apply the medical model to their black patients. As Dr Samuel Cartwright did when he said runaway slaves suffered from a disease called drapetomania. He was not some nut – he was one of America’s leading experts on black disease in the 1800s. But because he assumed white society was healthy he saw blacks as screwed up.

    What this means:

    1. Whites have no moral feelings that you can appeal to. They know the difference between right and wrong but just do not care.

    2. There is no known cure for psychopaths. The only successful treatments are imprisonment, radical psycho-surgery or death.

    Therefore the only thing that will work for blacks is violence and revolution.

    Let's hope not. Let us hope it doesn't come to this.

    I've chosen to ignore the generalization, because if the shoe doesn't fit, please don't put it on. –AnnEds

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