How long before we stop the confusion of race by color–black and whiteJune 30, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Posted in African American, Black Englisn, blacks, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, identity, Media and Race, Non-Hispanic white, Prejudice, President Obama, skin color, socioeconomics, U. S. Census, U.S. Supreme Court, whites | Leave a comment
Tags: African Americans, American Education, black, block vote, current-events, ethnicity, European Americans, first black president, George Zimmerman, Hispanics, Nelson Mandela, President Obama, president of south africa, Rachel Jeantel, racial identities, Trayvon Martin, voting rights bill, voting rights South Africa, white
This past week brought with it a number of socially important experiences from the concerns of the Supreme Court to the illness of Nelson Mandela and the trial of Trayvon Martin. One of the elements these three concerns have in common is the reference to identity, more specifically, a reference to black as an identity. Unfortunately, race defined by color seems to be an extremely difficult concept to debunk because many people have accepted the concept as valid. However, some of the references used last week underscore the problems attendant with the continued use of the terms black and white as so-called racial identities.
With respect to the Supreme Court’s actions, the one case that focused primarily on the use of the word black involved the voting rights bill. The reference to the “black vote” by journalists and people in the media, for instance, might be interpreted as meaning the votes of African Americans. The purpose of the bill was to protect all citizens from being denied their rights to vote by the state or local jurisdiction, not just African Americans. The problems that caused the creation of the voting rights protection by the court was because African Americans were the primary targets and victims of abuse. The term black vote suggests that all African Americans vote in a block, which they do not. By simply referring to the rights of African Americans to vote, rather than the black vote, the idea of the black block vote is removed. Like all other citizens, African Americans reserve the right of a voting choice, and that should not be based on the color of their skin. Alas, unfortunately, today it still is.
The meaning of black in the above reference has been accepted as common practice, but that acceptance does not alleviate the problems caused by its usage. A case in point involves the illness of the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. The media refers to Mandela as South Africa’s first black president, but what does black mean in the context in which they use it? Is it a reference to Mandela’s skin color or does it refers to the social and economic status of dark skinned South Africans? To further complicate the problem, President Barack Obama paid a visit to South Africa last week and the media referred to him as America’s first black president. So, if Mandela and Obama are both referred to as black, is it a reference to their skin color or to their personal identities or both? The obvious answer would be skin color, but that only works with the association of the historical significance. To identify Mandela as a man of color might confuse some who would see him as a colored person which is a different identity in South Africa. Usually, the South Africans of Dutch or European ancestry identify themselves as Afrikaners, so the simply reference to Mandela as South Africa’s first African president would be sufficient. For Obama, the reference to him as African American would leave little doubt as to his identity.
The use of the color words black and white as racial identities was obvious in the trial of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. The media has no problem with identifying Martin as black, but with Zimmerman, a problem is created because he can identify himself a number of ways. For example, he can identify himself as a Hispanic, or a non-white Hispanic, or as a white. How it is that he gets all those choices? The answer is because the Census Bureau says he can. They say it because they have yet to define race in any definitive, concrete, consistent and accurate fashion. The media generally refers to Zimmerman as white to create the contrast between the two principals in the trial. The contrast of black and white reinforces the social and historical symbolic significance of each term when used as race. The use of African American and European or Hispanic American would lesson the historical contrast.
In addition to the identities of Martin and Zimmerman and the use of color words relative to race, another disparity occurred during the testimony of Miss Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Martin. An observer of the trial was asked by a commentator to comment on Jeantel’s testimony. His first remarks centered on what he identified as her use of Black English. The reference to her language as Black English suggested that such a phenomena exists and is spoken and practiced by all black people. No one has ever suggested that other people with similar social, economic, and educational backgrounds speak a language that is characterized by a color. Again, we do not know if the color of the people’s skin is the key to their use of Black English or does black symbolize something other than skin color. In American, African Americans living in different parts of the country do not all speak the same as the term might suggest. We all recognize regional differences among Americans in general. We also recognize that the social, economical and educational status of all Americans have an effect on their use of the English language. All too often in American, a person’ skin color is often associated with their social status.
So, what is the point? We need to stop using color as an identity and excuse for ethnicity. We need to realize that as a society we are either progressing or regressing. We never reach a point where we can stop and say we have made it. Life does not work that way. Like when the butterfly finally emerges from the cocoon, its life’s journey is not complete, it has only just begun, as a butterfly. The identity of European Americans did not end with being called white, just as the identity of African Americans did not end with being called black. Life continues to the very end, and each day is a different and unique experience for us. Time to move on