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Building Trust in Public Discourse

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: December 5, 2000
Latest update: March 29, 2001


Trust Is Not Easy to Come By

Teaching and Review Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Participating Students, December 2000.
"Fair Use" encouraged.

This essay results from our academic discourse in and outside of class. The topic is painful, for we live in an adversarial society (Fellman), and trust of each other comes hard to us. As we touch on topics of imperialism and postcolonialism we forget how many of our forepeople were slaves or near slaves. We forget, for we rarely consider, the suicidal depression of those who must face the terrible deeds of oppression and domination wrought by their loved ones.

I'd just like to call your attention to the fact that we trust each other enough to talk about these feelings that are very real, and very important. Maybe that's a start.

Inhumanity and disrespect to our fellow human beings harms us all. I find it helps to bring the pain to awareness and share it with each other. Hopefully, then, we can begin to heal.

"Don't we all bleed the same?"
by Marlene Veliz

On Monday, December 4, 2000, Marlene wrote:

Hi Jeanne, I am writing to you to express my feelings towards the class on Tuesday night.

I was very frustrated to see the discourse going on among the black students mainly because that monopoliztion of the discourse made it seem as if they are the only ones discriminated against. The truth is otherwise, us Latinos are also discriminated against.

Latinos are also sent to prison unjustly. I can honestly say this because I have a relative who has been in prison for five years for no reason. He was sentenced for 12 years and was charged with no evidence, nothing was proven against him, but since the case was against a white person he was bound to lose. Latinos are also discriminated against by police officers. Whenever a police officer sees a Latino driving a nice car or nicely dressed they assume he/she is a drug dealer. Therefore, they are stopped and searched. That is certainly not right.

I perfectly understand that blacks are upset by the slavery their ancestors went through. But hasn't anyone stopped to think that us Latinos were also slaves once during the time of the conquistadores? Hasn't anyone thought that we also have the right to be upset, since we are living in what once used to be Mexico before the United States took over. I believe we also have the right to have resentment against many people, but we do not go around portraying it. Mexicans are not even allowed to cross the border to have a better style of living only because it is so hard to survive in Mexico. White people do not understand that the life in Mexico is extremely hard. Some people do not have jobs, because it is hard to find a job, whereas here there are plenty of jobs, but to many lazy people.

Latinos are also discriminated against in their native language. We are not allowed to speak Spanish which to me is so absurd. I was told once at my job site not to speak Spanish. I immediately answered that my title was Bilingual Instructional Assistant; therefore, I had the right to speak Spanish, and even if I didn't, I would still speak Spanish.

Jeanne, I guess that what I am trying to say is: Aren't we all the same? Don't we all bleed the same? I certainly agree with Berthena when she said that we needed to search for ourselves. It is obvious that we all have feelings, and we are bound to show them when it comes to our background.

Jeanne, I know I am not the only Latina frustrated in class while we are doing discourse. So can you please refer to ethnicity instead of blacks? Because we are all being discriminated against. What role do we play in your class?

On Tuesday, December 5, jeanne responded:

I hear the pain in your voice. And I am sorry for the hurt. I have a good model to follow, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa. He addressed this very problem in the Turth and Reconciliation Commission designed to help his country heal from apartheid.

I've included a brief excerpt from Archbishop Tutu. And I've also included a link to Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman?" I know, I know, these are both blacks to whom I turn. Here, I simply need forgiveness. I have been addressing much on postcolonialism this semester, so my reference to Archbishop Tutu is at my fingertips. That doesn't mean that I don't hear the pain of having resources drawn from one area, often to the exclusion of others. There isn't time just now for me to go back and hunt for the Latino references I used in Sociology of Law, particularly Images of Crime, Images of Justice.

Maybe it would help to review the long discussions we spent on the Yamomami, or to go back and take a look at the material on Patas Arriba! by Eduardo Galeano. That site is in Spanish, and is not available in English.

But what if someone Asian in the class, expressed the same frustrations you have? I probably could not cite so easily an example for them of resources used this semester. I have them. But there isn't time each semester to put them all up, to review them all. And then, we must trust in ourselves and in each other to be able to voice these feelings, to know that the pain is real, and to know that our good faith hearing will expand our discourse to cover us all.

Archbishop Tutu is gentle, warm, and loving. Eduardo Galeano is cutting. But both are informed by an irrepressible laughter suffused with caring about us all.

Reference you might want to cite: Justice for Some is Justice for None online at the ACLU site. A study by the Los Angeles Times on "9,442 willful homicides reported by public agencies in Los Angeles County from 1990 through 1994. . . . tracked those cases through the justice system until mid-1996. The study . . . . that the likelihood of punishment varies according to the victim's race." The ACLU draws an analogy to the death penalty, in which minorities are over-represented. The title says it all: "Justice for some, is justice for none." And such impact weighs even more heavily when "justice is for some of the "Other."

"YES. We all bleed the same."

On Wednesday, December 6, 2000, Araceli Mark wrote:

I just wanted to say that the piece on "Don't we all bleed the same?" was great. I can understand where the writer is coming from, being a Latina myself. I wanted to say that many of us go through discrimination and hardships; Blacks, Latinos, Asian, and Native Americans. It is important to remember that many of these groups dealt with colonialism and racialization. To be the "Other" in a world that is dominated by the dominant group is very difficult. We should all try to be open to other peoples experiences and embrace difference. I know it is hard, but it's a start.

On Friday, December 8, 2000, jeanne responded:

Araceli, I agree. It is hard to embrace difference, but I think it is a start. I hope that our forum will give us all a chance to see how many of us share these feelings. Finding that we are not alone is one of the first steps to freedom.

love and peace, jeanne

"We can sure try to make a difference"

On Sunday, December 10, 2000, Lisette wrote:

Hello, Jeanne

For your Tuesday night class Marlene Veliz wrote "Don't we all bleed the same", I was surprised Marlene actually spoke out and said what she felt, because I've known her since junior high, and I know she is a little shy. So am I. I guess that's why I never spoke out and expressed my feelings also, which are similar to Marlene's. However, I don't think any ethnicic or racial group should feel any resentment for anything that has happened in the past. Life is too beautiful to feel pain and be hurt by things that happened many years ago. There is a saying: "learn from your mistakes". I think instead of being resentful, we should learn from everyone's mistakes and avoid trying to live in the past.

Yes, we have all been discriminated against, and it probably will not stop any time soon, but we can sure try to make a difference. Another thing I wanted to add is that I hope you don't feel bad about the statement that the class discussion was mostly about blacks, because . . . you put up work on the web and bring up class discussions on what we ask for or what we are interested in. Therefore, if we are shy and don't speak up, then you don't know what we want to learn about. I know because I love chicano artwork or poetry and everytime I've emailed you about that you always have work on the website you tell me to look up about it, such as the chicano murals, Eduardo Galeano, and that project in Reno with Mexican students.

On Sunday, December 10, 2000, jeanne responded:

Thank you, Lisette. I was thrilled that Marlene spoke up, as I've always been when you write. These are feelings, and feelings are not rational. They are real, and we need to recognize them and allow them to be expressed. Then we need to act by taking a step back from the emotions and by permitting our intellect to join in the decision-making. A part of that intellectual process is hearing the narratives of "Others" and taking them in good faith into the decision-making. jeanne

"Thank you for understanding where I was coming from."

On Sunday, December 10, 2000, Marlene wrote:

Hi Jeanne, I am writing to say thank you for understanding where I was coming from, I felt that I needed to let you know what most of the Latinos were thinking but did not have enough courage to speak out and say something. I know that in a sense I was wrong by not speaking out in class however, I know that if I would have many of the students probably would not have understood me.

I sure am glad that you made the point for me. As I was sitting in class and listening to the students go further with the dominant discourse, many ideas were crossing my mind. I was glad that in a sense many students were able to relate the way they were discriminated against to the way we were also discriminated against. I guess I can also say that trust is very important. I know exactly what Jaime meant when he said that Trust is very hard to regain. You would love to trust again after you have been failed, but it is hard. I can definitely relate to this because I have been failed several times. I always say I will try one more time and give an opportunity, however, I am always failed. I can never understand why. This makes it even harder for me to trust someone again. I know that self-perception has a lot to do with it. If we can trust ourselves then we can trust others.

On Sunday, December 10, 2000, jeanne responded:

Marlene, you were not wrong by not speaking out in class. You were very brave. Not only was it hard to get a word in edgewise even if you weren't shy, there was a lot of affect involved for all of you. I am very grateful that you took the time and trusted enough to write your feelings for Dear Habermas. Just look at how much courage you gave to others to speak up also. And that helped us all to understand each other better.

Marlene, I think trust depends on more than trusting ourselves. Trust must be interdependent. In an adversarial society we learn to take every advantage, even of others. I cannot tell you why people have failed you in the past, but I can tell you that you had the courage to be there for your friends when you saw that they felt as you did. Courage is not about fireworks; it's about standing firmly on what your heart believes is right, even when your head's confused and the dominant discourse is scary.

"You can talk until you're blue in the face . . . ."

This piece was written in response to an issue raised in theory class on respect for learning and lateness. We considered the structural violence of rules demanding that we be on time, and the need for responsibility, and the structural violence of definitions of responsibility. Cecilia's comment on the relationship between "being late" and "dominant discourse" refers both to the structural violence of normatively held definitions of lateness, which categorize us as "late"/"not late", and to our normative expectations for distraction-free work time. To categorize is to judge, usually by a single factor. To withhold judgment and discuss the situatedness of the behavior is to negotiate. To trust one another and not need the negotiation, is shifting towards mutuality. "Being in love is never having to say you're sorry."

On Tuesday, December 5, 2000, Cecilia Moses wrote:

"I believe that being late definitely relates to dominant discourse. That seems to be a normal behavior at this facility. Jeanne, you can talk until you're blue in the face about respect for learning but, people will continue to do what is suitable to them. I further feel there is not a suitable answer to the problem. Reverting from adversarial behaviors and converting to mutuality would be helpful, but that is easier said than done."

On Tuesday, December 5, 2000, jeanne responded:

Here's a different way of saying "it's hopeless." But it can't be hopeless. For we are "it." We have agency. Yes, we are interdependent with the dominant discourse. We can't escape it as though it did not exist. But we still have choice within the constraints, and the constraints are our own normative expectations. We can change those normative expectations.

Rules won't change the dominant discourse. Only we can do that by what we expect, by what we tolerate. Where Archbishop Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in being "victim friendly," maybe, since the dominant discourse is "us," we should learn to be "us friendly." The thing is, disrespect to each other, to learning, to the earth on which we live isn't "us friendly."

Cecilia, you see the dominant discourse as condoning lateness. You may be right. But the crucial issue is how do we resolve the conflict (without the dualistic categorization) between the need for distraction-free work space and time and the distractions that lead to the lateness in the first place? Consider the possibility of mutual respect as a fruitful negotiating tool. When we demand "being on time" to show respect, we disrespect the people caught by distractions that led to the lateness. When we insist that "lateness" does not show disrespect, we disrespect the people who are distracted. Respect for both can be shown by minimizing the disruption, by refraining from categorizing those who respond differently from the way we do, and by using body language to indicate focus on the work at hand.

"It was not easy to develop trust amongst us."
by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This is a brief excerpt on what Archbishop Tutu says of developing trust on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself: at p. 79.

"We came from diverse backgrounds and we were to discover that apartheid had affected us all in different ways. We learned to our chagrin that we were a microcosm of South African society, more deeply wounded than we had at first imagined. We found that we were often very suspicious of one another and that it was not easy to develop real trust among us. We realized only later that we were all victims of a potent conditioning, with ready-made judgments of those who belonged to other groupings. . . . It was not easy to arrive at a common mind as each of us tried to stake our claims on the turf and to establish our particular space. You wondered as a black whether you white colleague would have reacted in that way to a fellow white and vice versa. "
And four of the members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were ordained. Need we say more about the difficulty of establishing trust?