Paul R. Lehman, Disparaging ethnic comment causes concern in Ada,OK

July 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, Ethnicity in America, Race in America | 3 Comments
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The lovely little town of Ada, Oklahoma has been enjoying an
atmosphere of ethnic harmony for the past few years. Relations among the
various ethnic populations had progressed to the point that group collaboration
in the interest of beautifying the town resulted in the creation of an Ada
Beautification Committee. All was going well until the chairman of the
committee, Dexter Pruitt, made comments that burst the bubble of cooperation,
good will and unity. What made matters worse was the fact that the group in his
immediate vicinity offered comments of agreement along with laughter that
indicated support for the comments.

The news story on KWTV-9 reported that Pruitt’s comments
included the statement that “…but if we don’t get on top of our town we’ve got
too many n…..s and Mexicans moving in.” The “n” reference was apparently meant
to suggest African Americans; the reference to Mexicans is self-explanitory.
This comment and the subsequent support of the people surrounding Pruitt do
several things simultaneously to help destroy the good-will that had been
created in the committee. The information derived from this experience places a
burden on the town of Ada and its residents.

The language and tone of the comment and the subsequent group
reaction indicated a mindset that dates pre 1954 when segregation,
discrimination, and bigotry were facts of everyday life in many Oklahoma towns,
including Ada. What that mindset indicated was the belief by some European
Americans that America is their country exclusively, and they only permit some
non-European Americans to live near them in towns like Ada. The fact that the
‘N’ word was used showed a lack of education or respect for African Americans and/or
bias and ignorance. Either way, the cover of friendliness, unity and acceptance
regarding ethnic identity was ripped away and in its place a not so beautiful
image appeared,

The idea of ethnic superiority, privilege and power by
European Americans also came to the surface in Pruitt’s comment. The ease and
sense of security that seemed to pervade the atmosphere where the comment was
made suggest a feeling of comfort with ethnic prejudice as long as public
scrutiny is avoided. So, one might ask, is the human relations progress that
all thought they were experiencing simply a delusion? One thing is for certain,
the citizens of Ada are the losers in this incident. The most important thing
Ada has lost relative to this incident is trust. The words and actions of some
people can no longer be received as reliable regarding ethnic relations.

Another result of the Pruitt incident indicated that
ignorance of history and ethnic relations have been ignored in favor of
retaining the privilege of normalcy among the European Americans in the group.
Evidently, no one in the group thought to challenge the use of the ‘n’ words or
the biased reference to Mexicans and “our town.” Should a quota be created to
keep the number of African Americans and Mexicans from “moving in?” The comment
seemingly indicated a level of fear that some thing bad or negative would occur
if something was not done to restrict the growth of the ethnic population.

One of the obvious reactions to Pruitt and party being caught
in the act of this kind of incident is to offer an apology quickly to try and
prevent further fall-out and damage. The apology is usually offered for the
wrong reason. The apology should not be offered for uttering the denigrating
words, or for getting caught uttering those words, but for the biased mind and
thought process that said it was okay to denigrate and disrespect a fellow
citizen purely on the basis of their ethnicity. Although Pruitt uttered the
comment, the reaction of the people surrounding him showed agreement with his
thoughts. They should also offer an apology for being supportive of ignorant
and biased thoughts.

For the town of Ada, some good can come from this incident
if handled correctly. The majority of the citizens of Ada are good,
law-abiding, friendly people who would never endorse the behavior of Pruitt and
party. What is also evident in Ada is a lack of knowledge and understanding by
some citizens regarding human relations. The citizens of Ada must realize that
some of its citizens still hold on to the false belief in a so-called white
race. Although no such thing exists in actuality, through the years that belief
has been cultivated in the minds of many Americans. To lose that sense of
specialness and privilege would be devastating to some people because their
identity is all they belief they have of value and that is why they fight so
vigorously to hold on to it. If real progress in human relations, especially
among non-European Americans, is to be made, then a new understanding and
perspective must be acquired by the citizens of Ada. Arriving at a new
understanding and perspective must come from an informed and receptive
mind—through education.

Most of the information about ethnic Americans both European
Americans and non-European Americans acquired through education tends to keep
progress at a standstill. The status quo still views people of various ethnic
identities as members of different races. The concept of many races was
debunked worldwide as early as the 1940s. Yet, many Americans want to hold on
to that false belief because it forms the basis for discrimination –viewing
one so-called race superior over another. This information is no longer valid
and accurate, so promoting it would be a disservice to not only the citizens,
but also the youth. Excuses for a slip of the tongue relative to bigotry and
prejudice can no longer be tolerated because a slip simple means that only a
small measure of the real bias was exposed; the majority of the bigotry is
still inside. The real challenge then is to root out the bigotry inside.
Education is the tool made specifically for such a job, for while it might not
eliminate the bigotry, it will remove the excuse of ignorance.

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3 Comments »

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  1. So very disappointing that instead of using the leadership role to advance the spirit of community and civic responsibility the opportunity was used to promote the opposite. The good citizens of Ada deserve better.

  2. Unfortunately, many towns have citizens who may make such remarks. Usually, though, they don’t make them in public. Oklahoma has never been known as a state with an abundance of tolerance, but the last half-century has brought some improvements.

  3. Has anyone done a follow up story to see how race relations are now in Ada?
    I found out recently that a new center there was named in his honor. Just suprised me to hear that.


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