Paul R. Lehman, The public apology of Levi Pettit shows serious challenges relative to understanding ethnic bigotryMarch 30, 2015 at 3:25 pm | Posted in African American, American history, Bigotry in America, blacks, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, freedom of speech, justice, Oklahoma, Oklahoma education, race, Race in America, racism, segregation, whites | Leave a comment
Tags: African American, African Americans, america's race problem, American Education, American History, bigotry, black, Civil Rights, Confronting Myths, current-events, European Americans, Frat song, Levi Pettit, Prejudice, public apology, race, Race in America, racism, racist, Sen. Anastasia Pittman, The University of Oklahoma, white
The public apology by Levi Pettit in the company of some African American community representatives has created a number of questions that warrant discussion. A few of those questions include: Why did Pettit choose to apologize to this group of citizens? Why did Levi Pettit select Senator Anastasia Pittman to seek redress? Why did the group of African American citizens accept Pettit’s apology? What did the public apology accomplish? To many people, the public apology of Pettit with the African Americans was a photo opportunity that only served to created additional questions.
In answer to the question of why Pettit chose Sen. Pittman and the other African Americans that composed the group to offer his apology, he stated “I did not want to apologize to the press or to the whole country until I came here and apologized to the community most directly impacted.” This statement reflects a gross sense of ignorance and a lack of understanding of what his words and actions on the frat bus really meant. Pettit’s thinking that this group of African Americans were “most directly impacted” is misguided and underscores his lack of understanding regarding what he did.
The group that Pettit should have met with and offered a public apology was The University of Oklahoma community, the students, organization leaders and civic leaders because those are the entities he mostly represented. His comments and actions reflected the lack of education and knowledge of history relative to the African American experience in America from Plymouth Rock to Selma, and the blame must be shared by those groups as well as the rest of society. Unfortunately, Pettit must have thought that African Americans are a monolith and that by making an apology to this particular group of African Americans, he was apologizing to all African Americans. He was grossly mistaken.
The fact that Pettit selected Sen. Pittman to assist with his plans for his apology could rest with the fact that she represents a large number of African Americans in Oklahoma City by virtue of her political office. In essence, more African Americans could be reached through Pittman, than any other public African American figure. With her social influence, she was able to bring together a group of religious and community leaders to share in this public apology by Pettit. Some people believe that Pittman showed a lack of judgment by not involving and bringing into the group other non-African American representatives from the clergy and civic organizations. By not doing so suggest that she accepted the narrow understanding of Pettit’s bigotry in that it affected “mostly” African Americans.
One wonders why this group of African Americans would allow themselves to be placed in a situation of compromise by Pettit. Does he need a public showing of African Americans forgiving him for his words and action, so he could move forward with his life? The sincerity of his apology is not what is in question here, but the use of people who were not directly involved in his words and actions suggest the need for a shield against future criticism. Pettit’s statement “I never considered myself a racist, I never considered it a possibility,” should have been a warning to the African Americans that this young man was totally ignorant about being a racist as well as racism. Evidently, many of the African American group members were not aware of Pettit’s comments or were equally uninformed. In other words, what purpose did Pettit’s apology serve the group since they did not represent all African Americans? In addition, since Pettit stated that he did not consider himself a racist, for what was he apologizing? The only possible thing the African American group could accept an apology for would be Pettit’s ignorance of racism. However, the group knowing that a student attending a university must have completed high school and demonstrated a control of basic knowledge relative to the world and America, why would they believe that Pettit did not connect the “rope” in his frat song with lynching?
To many people, Pettit’s public apology was simply a media photo opportunity that allowed him to save face by pleading ignorance before a group of forgiving African Americans. Being sorry for an action or denigrating ethnic references does not mean a full comprehension of the problem. Stories, pictures, words relative to the African American experience in history might serve to inform Pettit’s understanding of the challenges faced in the past and present, but until he realizes that his real audience is his family and all European Americans, and that American bigotry is a fabric of his and our daily existence, his apology is just words, as Shakespeare said “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Pettit is the only person who gains from the photo opportunity because he is able to show how he has been affected by his experience. Unfortunately, for Pittman, and the African American group, the suggestion as a result of the public apology is that anytime someone who is not an ethnic American says or acts in a disparaging way towards African Americans, all that needs to be done is to contact an important African American community leader and request a group meeting, open to the public for the media’s sake, and ask for forgiveness. Then, right there in front of the world, all will be forgiven, and life can go on.
The problem in forgiving someone for being a racist is that nothing is forgiven; the fact that the term racist is used underscores the ignorance of the problem. Racism is not an action or activity; it is a mindset that society engendered and perpetuates as normalcy in American society. The reason Pettit could never consider himself to be a racist is because he was always taught to look outside of himself for what he considered racist behavior, something quite different from the song he was singing on the frat bus. The problem with Pettit and the public apology is the suggestion that problems of American racism can be intelligently addressed; they cannot. They can only serve to perpetuate the myth of race.
Tags: African American, African Americans, America, American Education, amygdala, black, black and white race, Chris Mooney, Confronting Myths, current-events, David Amodio, ethnic identity, ethnic prejudice, ethnicity, European American, European Americans, Mother Jones, Prejudice, race, racial group identity, racism, racists, tribalism, white
In a current (January/February 2015) article by Chris Mooney in “Mother Jones,” “Are You Racist? Science is beginning to unmask the bigot inside your brain,” we are introduced to a number of tests, exercises, games and other activities that are focused on helping to identify and control our prejudice. Most of the tests and activities involve our association with things that seemingly feed into our prejudices. Unfortunately, the article failed to achieve its objective if that objective was to help us identify ourselves as racist and to try to address the problem in a rational way.
The first problem in the article was its failure to define racist. Had the term racist been defined, then we would have a basis from which to launch a rational discussion. Racist is a spin-off of the term race that is generally associated with science. The concept of race in America is based on an illusion, a creation, and a lie when it becomes plural, as in black race and white race. As far as science is concerned, the only race we need be socially concerned with is the human race, and it is not based or defined by skin color.
Rather than making clear or defining the terms African American and European American, Mooney uses the words black and white interchangeably with them respectively. These terms are not interchangeable—they have separate and unique meanings; that is, all blacks are not or consider themselves African Americans, and all whites are not nor do they consider themselves European Americans. The article does not make that distinction. Consider the following statement regarding the test referred to as Implicit Association Test: “The test asks you to rapidly categorize images of faces as either “African American” or “European American” while you also categorize words (like “evil,” “happy,” “awful,” and “peace”) as either “good” or “bad.” Faces and words flash on the screen, and you tap a key, as fast as you can, to indicate which category is appropriate.
Sometimes you’re asked to sort African American faces and “good” words to one side of the screen. Other times, black faces are to be sorted with “bad” words.”
We notice the shift from African American faces to black faces in the about quote and this is no exception regarding these terms; it happens throughout the article. According to Mooney these tests and activities were created to measure ethnic prejudice in society, but seemingly overlook the fact that we were born into an ethnically biased society. Our perspectives are based on our social conditioning. The assumption made in the article is unrealistic:
“You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions. As the milliseconds are being tallied up, you know the tale they’ll tell: When negative words and black faces are paired together, you’re a better, faster categorizer. Which suggests that racially biased messages from the culture around you have shaped the very wring of your brain.”
For the most part, the article examines activities that tell us what we already know—ethnic prejudice is a part of our mental make-up and is based on our social/cultural conditioning. What we should be focusing our attention on are ways to overcome these biases. Unfortunately, the article never debunks the notion of race as unacceptable but instead moves to the concept of tribalism as rationale. We know the benefits associated with tribal membership: identity, security, comfort, value, unity to mention as few.
Mooney’s visit with the scientist, David Amodio, a member of New York University’s psychology department, acquaints him with research regarding the brain, tribalism and prejudice: “One simple, evolutionary explanation for our innate tendency toward tribalism is safety in numbers. You’re more likely to survive an attack from a marauding tribe if you join forces with your buddies. And primal fear of those not in the in-group also seems closely tied to racial bias.” The professor added that his “research suggests that one key area associated with prejudice is the amygdala, a small and evolutionarily ancient region in the middle of the brain that is responsible for triggering the notorious “fight or flight” response.” The article continued; “In interracial situations, Amodio explains, amygdala firing can translate into anything from “less direct eye gaze and more social distance” to literal fear and vigilance toward those of other races.”
What seems apparent in this article is the fact that some scientists seem to want to verify what we already know—that prejudice exists in us and our society. The challenge is to over-come the prejudice, and we do that by educating our brains to recognize a different tribal group—the human family. One would think that the first order of business in making this shift is to first debunk to idea and concept of multiple biological races—we did it with Santa and lived through it. We certainly can do it with the illusion of race, notwithstanding Amodio’s research. We can not begin to deal with the problem of ethnic bigotry and prejudice until we face the fact that we have been living with an illusion for a few hundred years and now the time has come to face the truth.
Mooney recognized the problem of ethnic prejudice and realized that: “To be sure, it will take more than thought exercises to erase the deep tracks of prejudice America has carved through the generations.” He concludes the article with the statement: “Biases have slipped into all of our brains. And that means we all have a responsibility to recognize those biases and work to change them.” Actually, biases did not slip into our brains; in America they were cultivated through our culture, laws and social systems. One of the first things we can do is recognize that we belong to the same group by not referring to each other as black or white. What the European American needs to know is that each time he or she refers to him/herself as white, the race card is being played. Of course, the same goes for the African American and black. Ethnic bigotry, prejudice and racism will not simply disappear, it must be eradicated.