IFAS | Freedom Writer | March/April 2000 | dobson.html

Dobson's explanation of youth
violence carries racist undertones

By Megan Day

African-Americans and other concerned citizens who seek to foster racial harmony in Colorado Springs read with dismay James Dobson's views on youth violence in his advice column printed in the November 21st, 1999 Gazette and 549 other newspapers. Dobson was responding to the question: "I keep hearing about children and teens being involved in shootings, stabbings, and the like. What has caused many members of the younger generation to be so violent?" In his answer, Dobson, founder of the international conservative ministry, Focus on the Family, urged readers to "Lock your doors and avoid eye contact when you drive through certain sections of your city. There are kids there who would just as soon kill you as look at you." He blames youth violence on the neglect and abuse young people have experienced, especially those raised in the inner city.

Dobson goes on to describe the lifestyle in the "slums of large cities" that causes inner city youth's "tendency toward violence." "Millions of children.were left in cribs for days with dirty diapers burning their buttocks and legs. Some were hit repeatedly, or scalded or starved. If they survived, they grew up on the streets with no adult guidance or care. At night they slept in bathtubs to avoid bullets sprayed by drive-by shootings."

"This is a racist response, and provides the perfect opportunity to point out that manifestations of racism change over time," observed Jerome W. Page, executive director of the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region. "The old form of racism which is blatant, overt and thus easily recognizable has been replaced by a new form which uses code words like 'inner city' rather than 'black.' Yet the meaning is the same and perpetuates the very racial divisions and misunderstandings which we would like to eliminate."

Lynda Dickson, interim assistant vice chancellor of academic and mulitcultural affairs at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, found it especially difficult to understand how Dobson could ignore the obvious contradiction between his explanation for the proliferation of youth violence and virtually all of the recent examples of mass youth violence in the United States. The sixteen incidents of school shootings over the last four years (resulting in 40 deaths and 55 people injured) have happened almost exclusively in rural or suburban towns-places like West Paducah, Kentucky and Bethel, Alaska. As Dickson points out, "None of the perpetrators were from drug-and-alcohol dependent parents or had been subjected to 'unimaginable deprivations.' On the contrary, judging from the Columbines around the country, if there is a profile of a violent youth it appears to be one of white males from upper middle-class suburban families."

Dickson poses the rhetorical question: what "certain sections of your city" is Dobson referring to: the inner city or the suburbs? She challenges his assumption, stating "racial understanding can only occur when we are able to point to these new forms of racism and eliminate them."

Page points out that we recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a time where lip service is paid to equality and nondiscrimination. "At the same time," says Page, "we continue to find African-Americans, Hispanics and other People of Color defamed and stereotyped by statements such as Dobson made here. We have for too long accepted the plea of ignorance or explanations or apologies that begin with 'I didn't mean to.' especially from those who have assumed roles of leadership and should know better. It is time we cast out this more hidden, but every bit as hurtful and damaging form of racism, just as we have largely eliminated more blatant forms of bigotry from all but the margins of our society."

Reprinted from the March issue of Freedom Watch, a publication of Citizens Project, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

© 2000 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.