Scott Colom: The value of self-control

July 20, 2011 11:17:00 AM

Scott Colom - [email protected]


The recent controversy about police chief St. John has awaken the ghosts of April Fool''s Day 2010. On that day, Mayor Smith and Councilman Karriem got into a physical altercation at city hall. Chief St. John is presently accused of missing an administrative hearing because he had been allegedly drinking.  


In Sunday''s Dispatch, Birney Imes wrote that online commentators said Smith and Karriem don''t have the moral authority to criticize the chief because of the past altercation. In the column, Birney also mentioned that a black friend told him the past altercation between Smith and Karriem was "no big deal" in the black community, and that Kabir was lucky "he didn''t get worse" from the mayor. This was suggested to be a "cultural more" amongst blacks. 


First, the accuracy of this opinion should be questioned. Birney''s friend probably hasn''t polled black people on this point and is likely extrapolating this view based on a small sample. In my experience, people who claim to know the feelings of a large and diverse group of people are usually seeking notoriety.  


Second, the belief that physical confrontations are a norm in the black community is a dangerous, self-fulfilling stereotype. There are no genes or characteristics shared along racial lines. Cultural norms are created primarily through shared experiences, environment, and peer pressure. The cultural norms spread when they become stereotypes about a community and start to impact the way people see themselves.  


Growing up, the stereotypes about black masculinity negatively influenced my friends and peers. Toughness was often determined by one''s willingness to confront or fight an adversary. Males, in particular, were considered weak or scared if they were unwilling to stand up to someone. Often disagreements were resolved with fists instead of words, with temper instead of reason, and with violence instead of wisdom.  


On several occasions, I''ve been a victim of this stereotype. As a teenager, I often felt pressure to prove my toughness to others, particularly because my parents were lawyers. I got into fights and altercations to show I wasn''t a "rich boy," or had a bad attitude to fit in with my peers. I also witnessed this mindset ruin the lives of family members; some who''ve trapped themselves in a cycle of crime based on an original desire to fit in.  


As I''ve matured, and had many humbling lessons, I''ve realized the harm of this mindset and the need to change it. We can''t allow our children to think fighting is an appropriate response to a confrontation or that it''s "no big deal." This mindset breeds negative attitudes and destructive results.  


Thankfully, the positive aspect about cultural norms is that they can be changed as easily as they were created. We aren''t stuck with stereotypes. Therefore, in regards to masculinity, we should work to change this mindset. We should teach young people that toughness is based on mental strength, not physical; that controlling your temper is more impressive than losing it; and that fighting isn''t worthy of celebration. We should stress that the greatest victory in life is self-control. 


Scott Colom is a local attorney.