Paul R. Lehman, Trump and “the blacks” a link to the pastApril 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Bigotry in America, Ethnicity in America, Media and Race, Race in America | 5 Comments
Tags: African American and American, black and white race, Clara Luper, Confronting Myths, Donald Trump, European Americans, Jr., Julian Bond, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young
While making negative comments about President Obama, Donald Trump displayed a problem mindset that is too common among many Americans today. The concern of this blog is not so much who said it, but what was said. Trump made at least two references to, we can assume, African Americans when he said he “had a great relationship with the blacks,” and also, “I have a great relationship with the blacks”…. (NY Daily News.com) His references to “the blacks” make it sound as though “the blacks” are a monolithic group that is capable of being influenced and controlled as a unit. The problem regarding this concept is that it still exists in American society today. The statements, however, shows an ignorance, inappropriateness, and arrogance regarding African Americans.
For many years my concern over the use of “blacks” as synonymous with African American is well documented in this blog as well as my books. This Trump incident provides still another opportunity to continue my battle. The mere fact that the phrase “the blacks” is used shows a mindset that still carries with it the image of Africans and African Americans from slavery. Since slaves were considered property, they could be and were viewed as a collective unit, the same as cattle. Because they lacked power over anything, even themselves, they were easy to manipulate and control. Laws did not discriminate among African Americans relative to status, free or slave, wealth, and education. The lack of positive social value for blacks made it easy for European Americas to view them as a collective group. The negative stereotypes that accompanied the images helped to create a mindset that is reflected in Trump’s statements. He meant no harm by using the phrase, his ignorance of history and social changes got the better of him and allowed him to let the phrase roll off his lips with ease. He, however, is clearly not alone in this condition.
Most Americans believe they have a solid grip on their country’s history; they are incorrect in that belief. What they have is a portion of their country’s history that was taught them in school. If they received no further education regarding American history, then their knowledge is very limited and skewed. For example, most Americans do not realize that American Indians were the first to be enslaved in North America by Europeans (Spain). The second group was Europeans—many of the English prisons were emptied and the criminals shipped to America to serve as free labor. The Africans was the third groups to be enslaved. Other ethnic groups, the Chinese and Japanese, suffered from near slave-like treatment. Most American students do not learn of these part of the America story until later in life or from some extended studies if they learn of them at all. In any event, the use of the phrase “the blacks” is totally inappropriate for the informed American today because it takes away the uniqueness and integrity of the individual. By lumping all African Americans into a monolith—blacks, the general impression is that they are all alike in every aspect of their being. The inappropriateness of this suggestion is the fact that we know identical twins is not exactly alike. All human beings are unique and special regardless of their ethnicity or gender, so to place all African Americans into a group called “the blacks” is not acceptable.
When someone, anyone, knowingly uses the phrase “the blacks,” he or she is not only showing ignorance and ineptness, but also arrogance. For African Americans to use the phrase knowing that it is the same name given African slaves to deny them any sense of self-worth, pride or history shows a lack of understanding of history. For European Americans to use the phrase means nothing has changed in their knowledge and understanding of ethnicity in America since slavery; that is, since Africans and African Americans were called blacks during slavery, and are still called blacks today, what would be the reason for European Americans to change their views of African Americans? The term African American does not create the same mental image as the phrase “the blacks” regardless of who is doing the thinking. So, to avoid falling into the negative symbolism created by use of the phrase “the blacks,” we should stop using it.
Too many people have fallen in love with the term black not realizing the inaccuracy and negative symbolism associated with it. The y think that just because it is fine with them it is okay for everyone else—ignorance is bliss. Trump symbolizes European Americans who view themselves as normal and all other ethnic Americans as different from them. The arrogance comes from the belief that European Americans are not only biologically different, but also intellectually superior to other ethnic groups. That belief, although false, is what allows people like Trump to use the phrase “the blacks” with impunity.
The primary, but false, assumption made by Trump in his statement that “he had a great relationship with the blacks,” is that all so-called blacks follow one leader, and if Trump has a good relationship with that one leader, he does not have to worry about other so-called blacks because they will fall in line with their leader. The problem with that philosophy is that Trump sees himself superior to the so-called black leader. African Americans have never had a single leader in America. In some cases, the media created and/or selected some African Americans to represent the voice of the so-called blacks, but actual leaders and spokespersons for African Americans did so with the consent and approval of a group of leaders. Those leaders included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Rosa Parks, Julian Bond, and Clara Luper, along with a host of others too numerous to name.
The problem of images and historical stereotypes will continue as long as we as a society continue using terms such as black and white to define and describe Americans who do not see themselves as belonging to an ethnic group based on color.