Paul R. Lehman, Black and white confusion continues

March 8, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Posted in Media and Race | 4 Comments

The lack of specificity with respect to ethnic identity continues to create confusion to people in general and the media specifically. A couple of examples should suffice to demonstrate this concern. The first is an Associated Press article “Studies find obesity risks for minorities;” the other is based on an observation of a Diane Sawyer news story on children of Haiti.

                First, the obesity article begins with the statement that “The odds of obesity appear stacked against black and Hispanic children starting even before birth…” Many readers would not pause at that statement because they believe they understand what was said. If they took the time to reflect on that statement, they would have to ask a number of questions. Does the reference to black refer to color or ethnic identity? If the reference is to black as a color, than should not all dark complexioned people be considered? If the reference to black is meant as an ethnic identity, then African American would be a more appropriate term because it eliminates the confusion of color encompassing all dark complexioned people.

                The reference to Hispanic is also confusing since that term covers a wide range of ethnic identities from America to South America to Europe and places in between. The complexion of Hispanic people covers a wide range of shades and includes some very dark-skinned people. Does the study separate Hispanics with dark skin in the study of simply ignore their color in favor of their ethnic identity? Because of a lack of specific terms, the study appears ineffective. The confusion continues, however, when the term white is introduced.

                The article continued by stating that the study “examined more than a dozen circumstances that can increase chances of obesity, and almost every one was more common in black and Hispanic children than in whites.” This statement seems to confuse color with ethnicity along with social, economic, and cultural elements. Did the study look at three specific ethnic American groups at certain social and economic levels for its findings? If so, then the study should have identified each group specifically. Common sense dictates that people with above average education and income would be more conscious of their health as opposed to people at lower educational and economic levels. Did the study factor into the data those so-called blacks and Hispanics who consider themselves white? The study was probably well-intended, but with a lack of specificity relative to the subjects of the research, the results seem meaningless. Scientists and researchers have a saying about outcomes—garbage in, garbage out. The same sentiment also applies to other areas as well.

                Diane Sawyer did a story on some of the children of Haiti last week. She used the word race in the title of the story. The word suggests some biological difference between the children of Haiti and children elsewhere. The confusion in the story was created when Diane referred to the childern of Haiti as black. Again, what was not clear was the reference. Was the reference to the complexion of the children or a reference to a so-called black race? The children of Haiti should never be referred to as black unless the speaker is identifying them as part of a so-called black race. To do that would simply underscore the speaker’s ignorance, stupidity or worse, bias. The Haitian children who come to America to live will never be African Americans; they will forever be Haitians or Haitian Americans. To take away their cultural identity is to rob them of their personal identity and history.

                Chances are that Ms. Sawyer was not aware of the problem her lack of specificity created in her references to the children of Haiti. The same can be said of the people conducting the study on obesity. Nevertheless, the problem must be identified if it is ever to be addressed. Referring to someone as black or white will not make them African American or European American anymore than referring to someone as African American or European American will make them black or white. If that statement seems confusing, then enough said. The term Hispanics, although based on a common language, has some challenges of its own, but not for this discussion.



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  1. Those are great examples…have you contacted Diane Sawyer and the source of the other article to point out the problem? If you have contact information I would be glad to send something as well. As you say, “Chances are that Ms. Sawyer was not aware of the problem…”

    • Efforts and contacting national as well as local media have met with no success. If you try and are successful, please let me know how you did it. I guess you just have to know some one with connections.

  2. Like a tadpole, Ms. Sawyer (and most European Americans in general) were born in an obscure pond of historical distortions and have not yet grown legs long enough to jump up to the fertile soil of the 21st century. Her failure to synthesis what is known to be simple, biological, and factual data would have clarify what the researcher apparently omitted is obvious complacency. Ms. Sawyer should have noted that melanin is the substance in the human body that provides ranges of black and brown pigmentation. Perhaps her contentment with the entitlements granted via the distortion of history facilitates maintanence of the status quo. America’s most prolific researchers, scholars, and literate role model continue to report skewed data that perpetuates separatist ideology. Humans born geographically near the equator tend to have a greater degree of pigmentation. Are Haitians, Kenyans, Ghanans, Malawians, Ugandans, Rwandans, Tanzanians, Zambians, Angolians, Somalians, Nigerians, Columbians, and Peruvians all so-called members of the black fabrication of the term race? I am a proud African American. I, like the aforementioned cultures have a history, culture, origin and many wonderful traditions. Finding and using my voice to politely correct the ignorant misuse of my noteworthy history is extemely enriching. Dr. Lehman thank-you for your continued dedication to this dialogue of clarity. European Americans must stop minimalizing the self-esteem and right of existence to other cultures on this planet. The time has come for the hubristic behavior of Ms. Sawyer and other Europeans Americans to end.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments relative to the continued confusion of the social symbols of black and white. Change has to began somewhere, so why not here and now.



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