Paul R. Lehman,Understanding the bigots loss of power and control in America

July 31, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, American Racism, Race in America | 1 Comment
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                Reading, hearing, and seeing all the negative and hatful things associated with President Obama and his administration these past few months have called some things into question. Namely, the issues of bigotry and discrimination.  For some reason, many people believed that when Obama won the election that all animosity and hatred against African Americans and other ethnic Americans of color would disappear. That did not happen. As a matter of fact, the disharmony actually increased. Looking back in history for some kind of explanation for this kind of negative behavior the mystery grows. An attitude of resentment and hatred towards African Americans in particular seems to have no rational bases for existence other than the fact that God made them and put them here, among European Americans. What did African Americans ever do to European Americans to warrant such resentment and hatred? History shows that at different times some European Americans believed that African Americans were unjustly breathing the air that should be reserved for them. Why?

                The answer, in part, always goes back to power and control. The ruling class of European Americans knew that using the carrot and stick philosophy with the poor and working class European Americans would always work when pitted against African Americans and other non-European American ethnic groups. So, in an effort to keep the majority group satisfied, they gave them membership in the ‘white’ club. The idea of being satisfied meant making up for the lack of self-esteem and self-worth of the poor and working class European Americans when they compared themselves to the wealth ruling class of European Americans.  Being white meant having the privilege of feeling superior and better than non-European Americans, and being able to control to a major degree their education, employment, and environment. The fear, hatred, and resentment we observe today from the right and extreme groups comes from the fact that over the last five or six decades they have been losing their privileges and control. Electing Obama President seems to be the straw that broke their camel’s back. Let look at what has happened.

                After the Civil War, slavery as an institution was ended, but slavery in other forms came into being. While African Americans could no longer be held legally in physical bondage, they could be prevented from making progress in other ways. Education was viewed as an avenue of approach to improvement for all people, especially the poor and working class. Unfortunately for African Americans, education was unfair and unequal. This situation was just fine with the bigots because it gave them a reason to feel superior to African Americans. Then, in 1954, The Supreme Court decision Brown v. Broad of Education of Topeka, Kansas declared that segregated schools were inherently unequal and unconstitutional. This action for some European Americans was a slap in their face– losing control of their separate schools. Many battles were fought across the nations by cities and states to maintain the status quo. Some battles are still going on today. One of the most famous conflicts was the Little Rock Arkansas Central High School incident.

                The feeling of loss of control and self-esteem as a result of the Brown decision was renewed ten years later when then President Johnson, signed the 1964 Civic Rights Act. Among other things, this act prohibited discrimination by employers and unions, and established an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Any public place and/or program receiving federal assistance came under this act. This Act created one of the biggest rift in American politics because as President Johnson said at the time, the Southern Democrats would leave the party because they could not stand to have their power, privilege , and control being taken away and given to lesser people. The underlining fear was that first educational control was taken from them, now jobs or employment control was taken from them. What would be next?

After the 1954 Brown decision was rendered, a phenomenon occurred in most metropolitan areas known as white flight. European Americans had a choice in this desegregation business; they could move and start their own segregated communities, churches, schools, businesses and all. And so they did. However, another blow was dealt them in 1968. The federal government said that discrimination could not occur in the sale or rental of almost 80% of all housing. The Civil Rights Bill of 1968 took away another privilege from some European Americans, the privilege of controlling the environment. African Americans paid taxes like all working citizens, yet, they could not enjoy all the benefits that their monies helped provide. For example, prior to 1954, many public places forbid and/or limited African Americans access or accommodations to places like libraries, parks, zoos etc.

                Today, many European Americans remember once having control of education, employment, and environment in American society and grieve over the loss of their feeling superior as well as having power and control of other people. Those feelings turned into hate, anger, and resentment when they saw Obama, an African American elected. His election was yet another slap in their face and the beginning of the end for all the things they were led to believe was theirs for life. For them the protests are not really about politics, it is about the loss of self-esteem, pride, and power in being ‘white.’ Now even that is being taken away and European American used in its place.  Our understanding the fear, anger, and resentment of these European Americans help in interpreting the meaning behind phrases like “take back our country,” restore the American Dream,” “restore our freedoms,” and “protect our Constitution,” among others.

                With all these privileges being taken away, old signs like “No niggers need apply,” “no niggers allowed in this school”or“any niggers in town after sundown, hold only memories of bygone days. Some European Americans will have to look elsewhere for something or someone to use as a contrast to make them regain those old feelings. From all indications in the media these days, they are not ready to surrender the fight. For the ethnic bigots in America President Obama and his rainbow administration is a reflection of how much our democracy has changed, and judging from their attitudes, how little.

                The power in bigotry, discrimination, and bias come from the degree of difference that can be used as a contrast against the so-called normal; the degree of similarity signals a loss of power. So, the more rights and privileges that the African Americans acquire, the more some European Americans feel their loss. They forget that American society is not reserved uniquely for European American; that it is an ethnically diverse society of, for and by its entire people.

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  1. Well said. As an African American I hear, see,and feel bigotry every day. But it has been a while since I’ve seen it displayed so openly and so rampantly as since the election. Hopefully we are seeing the final desperate gasp of an old worn out concept used as you put it to control. Only time will tell.


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