Making sense of the violence in the US

March from the White House to the Capitol. Image by Susan Melkisethian

March from the White House to the Capitol. Image by Susan Melkisethian

Our hearts ache from the violence that has taken place this month. The shooting deaths of Alton SterlingPhilando Castilefive police officers in Dallas and three police officers in Baton Rouge fill families, friends, communities, and a country with deep sorrow.

It’s almost impossible to make sense of this violence but in these tragedies, it’s clear that fear, racism against Black Americans, the police, and guns played important roles.

However, any understanding or solution begins with education. Education can profoundly change belief systems, shift perceptions, and reduce ignorance and hate.

With the hope of gaining knowledge to enact positive change, here are some resources that offer some understanding of underlying causes surrounding these horrific events, and perhaps ways we can better communicate and connect with each other for the better.

Understanding current events

21H.319 Race, Crime, and Citizenship in American Law – The readings of this course offer insight into the key issues in the historical development and current state of modern American criminal justice, with an emphasis on its relationship to citizenship, nationhood, and race/ethnicity.

24.236 Topics in Social Theory and Practice: Race and Racism – lecture notes delve into the questions “How should we understand racial injustice? Does racial injustice continue to exist? If so, what steps might legitimately be taken to end it?”

24.02 Moral Problems and the Good Life – the Racism, sexism and speech section surface questions about the the cultural and economic structures that may reinforce sexism and racism.

17.922 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. IAP Design Seminar – students develop in-depth understanding of the history of US racial issues as well as past and present domestic and international political struggles.

21M.630J Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies – explores the experiences of people of African descent through the overlapping approaches of history, literature, anthropology, legal studies, media studies, performance, linguistics, and creative writing. The course also has a good reading list.

Other resources

Black Lives Matter –  an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and Black allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement.

I, Racist – text from a sermon that John Metta, a Black writer and poet, gave as a congregational reflection to an all White audience.

Changing the world and yourself for the better

CMS.615 Games for Social Change – workshop to design and prototype games for social change and civic engagement.

Letter from President Reif to the MIT community – reflecting on the importance of “leading civic institutions have a responsibility to speak clearly against these corrosive forces and to act practically to inspire and create positive change.”

17.905 Forms of Political Participation: Old and New – examines the associations and networks that connect us to one another and structure our social and political interactions.

CMS.361 Networked Social Movements: Media & Mobilization – a seminar that examines the relationship between social movements and the media and how resources and awareness can be mobilized.

11.948 Power of Place: Media Technology, Youth, and City Design and Development – workshop that explores the potential of information technology and the Internet to transform public education, city design, and community development in inner-city neighborhoods.

21G.019 Communicating Across Cultures – course that helps you become more sensitive to intercultural communication differences, and to provide you with the knowledge and skills that will help you interact successfully with people from cultures other than your own.

Other resources

The Science of Happiness – an edX course that focuses on how happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good.

Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change – an edX course that helps you learn the values, techniques, and themes social workers use to help others as well as strategies for addressing social justice challenges.

[Updated July 20 after police officers killed in Baton Rouge LA]

7 thoughts on “Making sense of the violence in the US

  1. Pingback: Honest-hearted people are losing faith in humanity and humanity losing faith in God | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

  2. Hello MIT, I ‘m french and I just discovered MIT opencourseware, I think it’s wonderful to have access to all this ressources ! About violence in the USA, don’t you have any course about gun violence and the debate on gun control ? A few days ago, here is what I was saying on a NPR post on Facebook (I quote myself) : “I think that an important part of US society accepts this violence as a norm, as something linked to the identity of the country. If the US society didn’t want all this violence, people would react and ask for more gun control (for example) because, as you know, a major part of violence in the US is linked to the guns. But it seems that people who want this gun control is still a minority in the US. Like Jeb Bush said after Oregon shooting in 2015 : “Stuff happens”. It means “we accept this violence, we can’t do anything against that…”
    Whatever, thank you for all these courses on MIT courseware, it will help me to work my english and to understand better scientific issues. Cyril


    • The gun issues in the U.S. are very complex. One main argument is “Are
      guns the problem or is the real problem the gun owners.” A second issue
      relates to the fact that even if guns could not be bought by anyone, there
      are enough guns around that most people, especially criminals have such
      large arsenals that they will be will stocked for years. Related to this issue
      is the problem of non-criminals having the means to defend themselves.
      In many cities it can take hours for the police to arrive when violence occurs.
      Without a weapon the unarmed citizen has no way to defend himself. If sales
      of guns are banned, now the criminals know that they can safely rob,
      beat, rape, and even kill without worrying about the victim defending
      himself. The best we can do is to make sales of guns limited to citizens
      who are law biding and some states are doing that. Many people in the
      U.S. are sympathetic to parents who have guns to protect their families so
      even with very strict controls turning in a gun owner may be problematic. Tom


  3. “It’s almost impossible to make sense of this violence but in these tragedies,”
    “It’s clear that fear, racism against Black Americans, the police, and guns played important roles.”

    “Clear” – to whom?

    It is ANYTHING BUT “clear” —

    What IS “clear” is the manifest leftist, progressive, conclusory and insidious bias and its unsupported conclusions, which is a far cry from any neutral, reasoned, impartial and careful examination and parsing of facts – that is present in this fact-bereft, “broken heart”, ill-conceived and misdirected appeal to “education”.


  4. The psychiatrist James Gilligan (1996) proposed that all violence is caused by the complete hiding of SHAME. When he was a prison psychiatrist, he got this idea from the answers the killers among the convicts gave to his question: “Why did you do it?” Most of them gave similar answers: “He dissed (disrespected) me.” Rather than struggle with their feeling of rejection (shame) they killed.

    By now there are many, many, studies of killers in psychology showing that they had similar findings. Many of the killers complained that they felt rejected by everyone, another way of naming shame without actually using the forbidden term.

    Tom Scheff


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