Cultural denial is the process that allows us to know about cruelty, discrimination, and repression, but never openly acknowledge it. It is how we come to know what not to know. Cultural denial is not simply a personal or psychological attribute of individuals; it is a social process organized and supported by schooling, government, religion, media, and other institutions. When we passed the anguished man near the Los Angeles Public Library and did not ask him if he needed help, it was because we have collectively convinced ourselves that there is nothing we can do for him. When we failed to meet each others’ eyes as we passed, we signaled that, deep down, we know better. We could not make eye contact because we were enacting a cultural ritual of not-seeing, a semiconscious renunciation of our responsibility to each other. Our guilt, kindled because we perceived suffering and yet did nothing about it, made us look away. That is what the denial of poverty does to us as a nation. We avoid not only the man on the corner, but each other.
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