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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, May 28, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesTHE WALL IS A SYMPTOM OF DIVISIVENESS

THE WALL IS A SYMPTOM OF DIVISIVENESS

Catherine Lockhart-Mills' excellent articles typically find an important
lesson in some small aspect of Virgin Islands life. It is useful to try to
put these lessons into a larger context by comparing the Virgin Islands to
other places.
Put into this larger framework, Ms. Mills' pieces are mostly about a single issue: the difficulty of maintaining successful diverse communities in today's world. The reason that the wall mural issue has inflamed people is that the Virgin Islands, like many other places, is not succeeding in managing diversity among groups.
Everyone knows that this is about more than a school teacher painting on a wall or about questions of private property. If Mr. Peterson had painted his murals about anything other than race, no one but his students would know his
name. Mr. Peterson is raising basic issues of trust and mistrust across group lines, and, in the process, deepening the levels of intergroup mistrust. Talk radio is a great ally in the process of spreading mistrust because it is most a dialogue of the deaf. "So that is what 'they' really think." In this respect, the "born here" issue is identical to that used by racist and anti-immigrant groups all over the world. If you are not "born here", you are the "other."
The concept of the "other" is a very dangerous one, because it starts us down the road of seeing "them" as being fundamentally different or less valued as human beings. Add the notion of victimization to the concept of the "other", and the situation becomes even worse. Mr. Peterson does both of these things and appears to have support and silent acquiescence from some portion of the community.
Once I have made myself the victim, for real, exaggerated, or false reasons, I can justify just about anything that I might say or do to the "other." (For the worst examples of this volatile mix in action, see the recent past in Rwanda, ex-Yugoslavia, and Chechnya.) It should be noted that, in all of these places, there was some belief that it "couldn't happen here."
Building a successful diverse community is not easy. It requires a commitment on everyone's part and some sense of urgency.
Both are lacking in the Virgin Islands at this time. The politics of the territory are largely the politics of hanging on to a dying status quo. Too many native Virgin Islanders still (wrongly) believe that the government will always be there as a safety net. And many middle and upper class Virgin Islanders, native and mainland, know that in the crunch, they can always head to Miami.
So step number one is to create some sense of urgency. That urgency should flow from a belief in a shared community and the fact that everyone is in this together.
Editor's note: Dr. Frank Schneiger is president of the Human Services Management Institute, a consulting firm. He has served as assistant commissioner of health for the City of New York and founded Comprehensive Medical Management Inc. He is the author of "Cutting and Coping," a how-to guide for managing retrenchment. He has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He is one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
Readers are invited to send comments on this article to source@viaccess.net.

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Catherine Lockhart-Mills' excellent articles typically find an important
lesson in some small aspect of Virgin Islands life. It is useful to try to
put these lessons into a larger context by comparing the Virgin Islands to
other places.
Put into this larger framework, Ms. Mills' pieces are mostly about a single issue: the difficulty of maintaining successful diverse communities in today's world. The reason that the wall mural issue has inflamed people is that the Virgin Islands, like many other places, is not succeeding in managing diversity among groups.
Everyone knows that this is about more than a school teacher painting on a wall or about questions of private property. If Mr. Peterson had painted his murals about anything other than race, no one but his students would know his
name. Mr. Peterson is raising basic issues of trust and mistrust across group lines, and, in the process, deepening the levels of intergroup mistrust. Talk radio is a great ally in the process of spreading mistrust because it is most a dialogue of the deaf. "So that is what 'they' really think." In this respect, the "born here" issue is identical to that used by racist and anti-immigrant groups all over the world. If you are not "born here", you are the "other."
The concept of the "other" is a very dangerous one, because it starts us down the road of seeing "them" as being fundamentally different or less valued as human beings. Add the notion of victimization to the concept of the "other", and the situation becomes even worse. Mr. Peterson does both of these things and appears to have support and silent acquiescence from some portion of the community.
Once I have made myself the victim, for real, exaggerated, or false reasons, I can justify just about anything that I might say or do to the "other." (For the worst examples of this volatile mix in action, see the recent past in Rwanda, ex-Yugoslavia, and Chechnya.) It should be noted that, in all of these places, there was some belief that it "couldn't happen here."
Building a successful diverse community is not easy. It requires a commitment on everyone's part and some sense of urgency.
Both are lacking in the Virgin Islands at this time. The politics of the territory are largely the politics of hanging on to a dying status quo. Too many native Virgin Islanders still (wrongly) believe that the government will always be there as a safety net. And many middle and upper class Virgin Islanders, native and mainland, know that in the crunch, they can always head to Miami.
So step number one is to create some sense of urgency. That urgency should flow from a belief in a shared community and the fact that everyone is in this together.
Editor's note: Dr. Frank Schneiger is president of the Human Services Management Institute, a consulting firm. He has served as assistant commissioner of health for the City of New York and founded Comprehensive Medical Management Inc. He is the author of "Cutting and Coping," a how-to guide for managing retrenchment. He has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He is one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
Readers are invited to send comments on this article to source@viaccess.net.