5 November 2005

Paris Burning & Youth at Risk

This past week I've watched and listened and tried to understand what's happening with the Paris riots. I find these riots unsettling for several reasons. When people feel cornered, hopeless and unheard, they strike out. First, to get out of the corner. Second, because they think they have nothing more to lose. And third, because someone may actually listen. From everything I've read, no one seems to be able to connect with the youth that are rioting. They feel marginalized - by their families, the community and society at large. I think we have a great deal of youth at risk right now - a result of globalization and cultures thrown into together that are not given the tools to fit into the mix.

Even though I've had a rather privileged life, I grew up caught between conflicting cultures - and having money didn't make it any easier. Perhaps it made it worse because no one would even think children of successful parents may also be culturally marginalized. They have no idea what it is like to have two parents from two completely different cultures, value systems and language. I don't talk about this very much because I eventually grew up and learned how to make my own unique way in the world. The reality was that I never belonged to either culture because each culture refused to accept me because I was partly from the other culture. I fell into the cracks between the cultures and became a radical, acting out my anger and frustration.

Children depend on their families to love them, protect them and to help them grow. What happens when the family cannot see the struggle of the child because the child's struggle is between the family and a conflicting culture. The child doesn't fit in either culture and no one understands this except other kids caught in similar circumstances and under the same conditions. This is how gangs form. They create their own reality between the acceptable worlds of family and thier local society.

We are on the verge on something similar here in The Netherlands. No one knows how to connect with the kids who feel caught between cultures and families and are struggling to discover their own identity and value in society. We need to help them find themselves and see their value in the context of their own lives.

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