Paul R. Lehman, Our changing society demands a new sense of value for each of us

September 23, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Posted in African American, American Dream, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, Civil War, Congress, democracy, desegregation, discrimination, Equal Opportunity, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, identity, immigration, integregation, Prejudice, President, President Obama, Race in America, segregation, Slavery, Southern states, state Government, The Thirteenth Amendment, The U.S. Constitution, whites | Leave a comment
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We read or hear on almost a daily basis, accounts of the shooting death of a young African American. We have experienced this sort of news so frequently that it almost seems routine. Of course, we know that death of young people is never routine. The public, in general, seem to accept the news as something of little importance. Why? Maybe the reason for a seemingly lack of interest by the public is based on learning and past experiences. What seems to be the case relative to the shooting and deaths of young African Americans is a public that does not see value in African American lives; this lack of value for African American lives is part of the legacy of American history beginning with Reconstruction after the Civil War.
Once the Civil War was over, the former slave masters and people in the slave business were no longer concerned with the value of former slaves; they were now free. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution stated that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” So, once freed, the African American did not carry the same value to society that the slave carried. Under the laws of the states, especially in the South, the concern and focus was not on the value of the African Americans, but on the avenues of approach needed to recapture their labor as cheaply as possible. In essence, laws were created to exploit the newly freed African Americans for whatever purpose the European American society felt necessary.
The laws created by many of the Southern states to control the African Americans came to be known as “The Black Codes.” These laws tried to recapture the powers of the slave masters that were loss as a result of the Civil War. The first set of these laws came from the state of Mississippi. History tells us that “the first such law was enacted on November 22, 1865. It directed civil officers to hire orphaned African Americans and forbade the orphans to leave their place of employment for any reason. Orphans were typically compensated with a free place to live, free meals, and some type of nominal wage.” In addition, we learn that “other white employers were prohibited from offering any enticement to blacks “employed” by someone else.”
Mississippi passed other laws that restricted the movement of African Americans; some laws even required them to carry papers to provide information of their employment. The objective was to recreate the master-slave relationship, but with the protection of the state laws. History shows that “Within a few months after Mississippi passed its first such law, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina followed suit by enacting similar laws of their own.” The Congress recognized what these Southern states were doing and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This Act did little to change the attitude of the European Americans and the social value of the African Americans until the first half of the twentieth century.
In America, the laws passed by the Federal government did not change the mind-set of many Americans concerning the value of the African American. As late as 1970, Peter Loewenberg, in an article, “The Psychology of Racism,” made the comment that “In the unconscious of the bigot the black represents his own repressed instincts which he fears and hates and which are forbidden by his conscience as it struggles to conform to the values professed by society.” Loewenberg continued by stating that “This is why the black man becomes the personification of sexuality’ lewdness, laziness, dirtiness, and unbridled hostility. He is the symbol of voluptuousness and the immediate gratification of pleasure.” Loewenberg referred to the experience encountered by biased European Americans as a form of projection. He added that “These feelings are easily associated with low status or tabooed groups such as Negroes. Blacks are pictured in the unconscious imagery of the white majority as dark and odorous, aggressive, libidinal, and threatening.”
Many of the changes that have occurred in American society towards valuing all human beings since 1964 have been on the shoulders of the African Americans. One of the major changes by African Americans to see themselves differently from how European Americans viewed them was to change the connotation of black from negative to positive. The cultural references of the late 60s and 70s reinforced the positive value of being a black in America with phrases like “Black and Proud, or “Black and Beautiful,” as well as a host of others. Nevertheless, the changes that affected the African American population did not place any stress or feelings of commitment of change with the European American community.
We have a tendency to forget that the public schools were desegregated, not integrated. So, the curriculum did not change to include the many positive contributions of African Americans in building our great society. The history taught was the same as before Brown v. Topeka, the only difference was African Americans were allowed in the classrooms. The norm for the European Americans did not change simply because the laws did. If nothing happens to change the way Americans look at each other, then the same old negative stereotype that has been associated with ethnic Americans will still be in place. Education has done little to change the way European Americans view African Americans as well as other ethic Americans. That has to change if we are ever to value one another.
When Barack Obama became President of the United States, many Americans seemed to have lost their sense of respect for the office of the president because it was occupied by an African American. The negative attitude of not valuing non-European ethnic Americans continues today because we as a society have not worked hard enough to eliminate the ignorance associated with race, ethnicity, and diversity. Through ignorance and bigotry many Americans have failed to recognize the truth of who we are as human beings and to value each other. Laws cannot change attitudes, but people working together can effect change. Chances are that when we start viewing each person as a valued member of society, we will start treating them differently. Whether we like it or not, America is changing into a more ethnically diverse society, and the sooner we realize that we cannot go back to the 1800s, and accept the reality of our diversity, the sooner the madness of hatred and bigotry can start to decrease. We, as a society cannot afford the luxury of sitting back waiting for others to make the first move towards creating a better society where young Africans Americans are not shot everyday; its time we act.


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