By Shahfizal Musa
Pix Ahmad Shahiddan Saidi
BANGI 28, Feb. 2012- Racial conflicts occur because of pent up emotions over issues which are not necessarily race related, a visiting Professor at the Malaysian National University (UKM) said today.
Prof Karen Umemoto from the University of Hawaii USA said such conflicts can occur due to the presence of underlying tensions that had been brewing for long but not addressed.
Prof Umemoto was giving a talk on Ethnic Relations and Emotional Conflicts at a Forum hosted by the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) of UKM. Prof Umemoto is the author of The Truce: Lessons from a LA Gang War 2006, a book about gang wars in Venice Los Angeles which claimed 17 lives and injured over 50 people.
She studied race relations both from psychological and sociological perspectives. Two US racial riots in 1960’s and 1990’s were sparked by one single incident, but spread like wild fire claiming lives and causing a lot of damage to property.
She attributed the two incidents to the presence of underlying tensions that had been brewing for a long time but not addressed. She referred to the gang wars between two gangs one dominated by the Latin Americans and the other dominated by African Americans. Though it began just as a war between two gangs but had escalated into racial conflicts.
The suppressed emotions was about the demographic changes in the area with the growing presence of the Latins while the population of the African Americans were decreasing.
Arising from that there was the perception of greater discrimination against African Americans for housing, jobs and services to the extent that the African Americans thought they were being driven out.
Their anger intensified when in the gang wars police were perceived to favour the Latins. All this anxiety about not being able to get jobs and services and not being able to obtain housing snowballed into racial tension.
The social fault lines became more conspicous. The emotional intensity of the gang conflicts reverberated along ethnic lines raising pent up emotions that had built over the years together with other issues.
The gang wars turned into racial conflict when people felt that they were targeted purely on how they look.
Suddenly in a community of different races which use to sleep over at each other houses had stopped talking and interacting.
She said with knowledge of social science, we now understand conflicts better than the solution.
Prof Umemoto said psychology had proven to be the ingredient that was able to end the conflict. The ex-gang members managed to redirect the conflict from being racial in nature into a war between two gangs because they understood the psychology of the gang members.
They made the leaders see that if the conflicts were allowed to go on the racial platform the people would lose out. The police will impose martial law and this would harm their drug trade. This made the gangs agreed to a truce, reframing the conflict from being racial to a conflict involving two gangs.
Present at the talk was the Director of KITA, Distinguished Prof Dato’ Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin; the Principal Research Fellow of the Institute, Anis Yusal Yusof, lecturers and students.