Paul R. Lehman, What’s in a name—the “N” word and Identity

May 4, 2019 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Africa, African American, American Bigotry, American history, biological races, black inferiority, blacks, Disrespect, DNA, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, France, identity, immigration, language, Media and Race, Negro, Prejudice, race, Race in America, respect, skin color, skin complexion, social conditioning, the 'n' word, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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Several years ago I had the occasion to give a lecture to some citizens of a small rural town at the town’s library. An audience of about twenty people attended the lecture and remained for a question and answer session. In responding to a question, I made mention of European Americans and their relation to the question. Soon after I finished my comments, a small, white-haired, senior lady raised her hand, and I acknowledged her. She asked, “What is this European American you talked about?” Smiling at her, I said, “you. You are a European American.” She seemed perplexed, so I explained to her that at one time in America the only people who could become citizens had to identify themselves as either Negro (black) or white. Many immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe did not qualify as either, so they had to use their ethnic identity which set them apart from the so-called whites. In the early 1920s, two Asian men applied for American citizenship and both were denied because the courts said they were neither black nor white. Following the second trial, a Supreme Court justice said that only Europeans could be considered white and they could recognize one from another. One of the consequences of that statement led many immigrants to stop identifying themselves by their ethnicity and just identify themselves as white because it provided elements of social and civic power and prestige.

Still looking somewhat confused, the lady asked, “What is my ethnicity?  I have always been told that I am white.” I asked her where she and her parents were born if not in America. She mentioned that her family had not spoken about being from another country in general but she had heard some references to France and Italy. I mentioned that the term European American provided a more specific identity reference than simply saying white because white does not refer to nationality, country, language, religion, or culture. She thanked me for the explanation.

This incident came to mind when I heard two young African American men talking on Facebook about economic challenges and problems experienced by African Americans and people of color. What caught my attention was their reference to African Americans as “N”. They used it as though it was an accepted and legitimate term with no historical or social significance. Evidently, they assumed that because they were, apparently, men of color their use of the word was okay. Their use of the “N” word actually communicated a number of things that were not positive. They ignored the word’s history, denotation, and connotation, social and cultural significance.

The word Negro comes from the Latin language as an adjective referring to the color black but came to be associated with people from Africa with dark skin complexions. When enslaved Africans were brought to America, they were stripped of their names, language, culture, religion, and personal history. They were forced to accept and adjust to the elements of slavery in America, but most definitely the new language through which they were to be known and referred to as Africans, Negroes, blacks, and slaves. The term Negro was the most commonly used term in America with the spelling and pronunciation varying from the different geographical areas of north and south. The slaves had no choice but to refer to one another as Negro or “N” because that was the only language they were permitted to speak.

Under slavery’s rule in America, the denotation of the word Negro made reference to people, regardless of their skin complexion, who was known to have any African blood. In this context, the reference was made only for identity. However, in the connotation, the word took on a totally different meaning. As a form of projection the “N” personified sexuality, lewdness, laziness, dirtiness, and untamed hostility. In addition, the elements of foul odors, threatening, aggressive and libidinous behavior became associated with the character of the “N” and were perceived by the average European American as normal. Altogether, the concept of excrement came to be associated with the “N” to the point that his social value was equated with it and found to be of lesser value.

Before, and definitely after Reconstruction in America, African Americans have been trying to divorce themselves from the term “N” because it never did, in fact, defined or described them, but was used to enslave them mentally. Society has labeled the “N” word pejorative and socially unacceptable because of its historical significance. However, the word has been given a life-line through entertainment and artistic expressions by some African American performers. Unfortunately, the word does not lose its pejorative quality through continued use and speaks to a sense of historical ignorance or self-deprecation by the users.

An old saying advises that one cannot throw dirt on others without getting some on one’s self. This saying works equally with the use of the “N” word because it reflects on the character of the users by questioning their self-perception and their judgment of others they associate with the word. The objective of the slave masters in imposing the “N” word on people of color was to force them to see themselves through the biased eyes of the slave masters, not their own eyes. So, for as long as the people of color continue using the master’s language relative to themselves, they will remain mentally enslaved and unable to see who they really are.

If the “N” word did not carry negative social value in society then its use would not be in question. But it does still carry negative value. So, one wonders why two intelligent young African American males would constantly use the “N” word to their audiences unless they do not realize that by doing so they are showing disrespect to themselves and their audience. With all the demographic changes taking place in the world, and especially in America today, and with many people discovering their ancestral roots, one would think that constant reference to the past via a derogatory term would be counterproductive. The continued use of the “N” word seems to suggest that some people of color want to remain mentally enslaved or do not want to know their true identity.

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Paul R. Lehman, Changing America’s social conditioning a challenge for all ethnicities

November 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Posted in Africa, African American, American Indian, American Racism, blacks, discrimination, DNA, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, France, Human Genome, identity, Michigan, public education, skin color, Slavery, socioeconomics, South Africa, whites | Leave a comment
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Americans are ethnically conditioned to discern other ethnic groups with one exception; that exception would be recognizing European Americans. Read any newspaper or magazine article and if the subject of the article is European American, that information is usually not stated, but assumed. If the subject of the article is other than European American, then the ethnicity is identified. The primary reason for this activity is based on the influence and control European Americans have had on Americans for several hundred years. During American slavery and shortly after the Civil War, emphasis was placed on the irrational conception of race by color; that is, society created two dominant races, one black, the other white. Ever since that creation, fruitless efforts have been made to try and make the myth reflect reality. Nonetheless, what American society has been able to do is promote the concept of multiple biological races with relative success. Along with the concept of multiple biological races came the acceptance of the European American as the only normal representative of human beings. In effect, European Americans were conditioned to see themselves as not belonging to a race or ethnic groups because they were the model of mankind. So, the inclusion or exclusion of the European American ethnic identity in the print media simple reflects that concept of normalcy.
The concept of European American as being normal manifest itself in a variety of ways daily in society. The majority of models used to sell goods and services are European American. When models of other ethnic groups are used to sell what is generally viewed as normal goods and services, they attract attention because they are not seen as normal based on how they look. For example, beauty products aired on television usually employ European American models, male and female. Today, when an ethnic American model is used in advertisement the recognition of the difference is almost immediate. Again, the reason for this recognition is based on the conditioning we as a society have been exposed to regarding what is seen as normal and what is not.
One of the great challenges we have in America today is discontinuing the misguided practice of discerning ethnic groups and then stereotyping them according to what is considered to be social norms. For each of the major ethnic groups in America today, society has a stereotype of some sore used to characterize that group. These stereotypes lend themselves to separating and dividing Americans rather than uniting them. Take, for example, the celebrations of Thanksgiving and Hanukah, occasions that serve to honor events in American and Jewish history respectively. As a diverse society America recognizes and supports the rights of the Jewish people to celebrate some of their history just as America celebrates part of its history. In effect, we are more alike as human being than we are different. We need to learn to accentuate our similarities rather then focus on our differences. First, however, we must become aware of how we continue to separate ourselves.
A recent headline from USA Today identified the movie The Best Man Holiday as having a race theme. That assessment was probably due to the fact that the cast was predominantly African American. The suggestion implied from the reference to race is that because of the color of the majority of the cast, the movie’s theme had to be about race. A number of concerns are presented with the assumption of a movie being associated with a race; first is the acceptance of the false assumption of multiple races, and second is the assumption that skin complexion determines a so-called race. We need to clear the air on the two false assumptions.
If a statement is made about a movie being a race-theme production, then the idea of either a black or some other colored race is intended, because movies using European Americans are considered normal. The faulty logic in a statement referring to a race theme movie is that no such race exists. If the reference is to a so-called black race, then any movie with a cast of people of color, regardless of their geography or culture would be considered black. For example, a movie made in Nigeria, with a Nigerian cast, or in South Africa, with a South African cast, or in Brazil with a Brazilian cast would all be considered a race theme movie, because of the skin complexion of the cast members. However, a movie made in England with an English cast, or Germany, with a German cast, or France, with a French cast would simply be a movie because of the skin complexion of the cast members. We can readily understand just how ridiculous the concept of race by color is confusing and useless.
Because Americans are conditioned to see race based on color, they also accept the idea of so-called racial differences associated with the stereotypes. In essence, a so-called race theme movie would depict the elements of love, hate, happiness, and the range of human emotions based on the idea of some specific so-called race. Therefore, following that logic, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet performed by African Americans would be a play with a race theme. How stupid are we?
We, as a society could eliminate a large part of the ignorance and stupidity by forgoing the use of the terms black and white and their reference to so-called races. We know, but need to accept, the fact that only one human race exists, and we are all part of it. Every American belongs to the human family regardless of his or her ethnicity. We readily acknowledge the cultural differences that economic, education, geography, and social standing represent, but all those things are man-made. When we take the time to observe and examine our differences, we learn quickly that we are more alike than different and that movies, regardless of the skin complexion of the cast, are about human beings and the challenges they face learning to live with one another

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