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,Why the movie The Green Book failed to carry a positive message for African Americans.

February 27, 2019 at 3:55 pm | Posted in African American, African American and chicken, African American celebrities, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Black Englisn, black inferiority, blacks, desegregation, discrimination, Disrespect, employment, Equal Opportunity, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, integregation, justice, minorities, Negro, Prejudice, Race in America, racism, respect, segregation, skin color, social conditioning, social justice system, socioeconomics, white supremacy, whites | 2 Comments
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Family, friends, and acquaintances were the order in which African American musicians and other entertainers used for hospitality, food, and lodging in the days before desegregation. During the early 1950’s when my cousin “Little Walter” Jacobs came to town for a show or two, his biggest decision was with whom he would stay. His room at the local hotel for people of color was only for his belongings. Jacobs was not alone in this endeavor, most African American entertainers depended on their relations in the communities they visited for hospitality where they were usually treated as celebrities. Because this form of accommodation was ordinary for African American entertainers, most road managers and agents saw to it that the flyers announcing the coming attractions were in place weeks before the actual shows. That way, the family, friends, and acquaintances would be prepared for the celebrity’s arrival.

The key to a successful tour for African American entertainers in large part fell to the managers and their connections with other managers on the “Chitlin Circuit,” which was a collection of performance venues throughout the Eastern, Southern, and upper Midwest areas of the United States that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for African-American entertainers. A Green Book was not usually necessary for these entertainers because of the information network of the managers. For other African Americans traveling around America and especially through the South The Green Book was important. Somehow the movie, The Green Book, did not touch on the experiences of African American entertainers traveling through America.

For some American viewers, the movie The Green Book was very entertaining and likeable simply because it included a well-known musician of color, Don Shirley and a historical perspective. Unfortunately, viewers sometimes do not see the forest for the trees, or they concentrate on the movie rather than the message it presents. When we examine the movie for it message, we discover that the movie was disappointing from three aspects—the Green Book, the musician, and the bouncer.

Although the movie carried the title—The Green Book, little attention was paid to the actual book, it author and content. Yes, Tony the bouncer did refer to the book a number of times, but usually without any mention of it. The author and publisher of the book, Victor Hugo Green was not mentioned nor was the way Green acquired the information for the book. Also, what was  not mentioned in the movie was the fact that the book was actually a survival tool for many African American travelers who often faced a life or death situation on the road. African Americans were not only prevented from staying in hotels and eating in public cafes and restaurants but also refused gas at many service stations. So the importance of The Green Book had more significance and value than reflected in the movie.

Next, the movie failed to represent African Americans (if that indeed was an objective) through the character of the pianist Ali. Although he was portrayed as a brilliant and talented musician, his character appeared as a naïve, innocent, ignorant and an anomaly of a person of color. Why would such a seemingly uninformed person of color agree to a tour through a country whose majority viewed him not as a human being, but somewhat of a spectacle similar to that of an animal that could perform some unusual tricks for their entertainment? The simple fact that Ali’s character was not familiar with fried chicken or rhythm and blues disqualified him from even pretending to be an African American. The character of Ali was en essence a freak, an oddity in the context of the movie since we learn little about his personal life. Throughout the movie Ali performed at the various venues with little or no regard for the fact that he was there only for the entertainment of the European Americans, not as a human being of equal social value. The entire movie focused on a short period of time in his life–from the beginning of the tour until the end of the tour at Christmas. The movie was certainly not about him.

Tony Vallelonga, the Italian from New York, who was hired as Ali’s chauffer and body-guard, was a bigot who accepted the job for the money. Through the course of the tour the two men got to know each other on a personal level, but never as equals. Tony understood that the fabric of ethnic bigotry was part of society’s character and therefore he was in a position to protect Ali from his ignorance on a limited basis. We learn from the movie much about Tony’s life, his family, his friends, aspects of his ethnic identity. In a number of instances Tony saved the day for Ali when confronted by European American bigots. Although the two men grow closer together in accepting one another, that acceptance was as members of two distinct ethnic identities and character roles. The movie came closer to being Tony’s story rather than a story about a book or a pianist of color.

Between the two characters of Ali and Tony, the one that seemed to grow in understanding human relationships was Tony. Ali’s character was that of a spoiled and somewhat controlling talented social orphan who just happened to be a person of color. Ali’s knowledge of The Green Book seemed limited at best as was his awareness and understanding of the African American experience in America. The most important thing to him was his talent and the opportunity to perform before mainly European American audiences and, of course, money.

Although some aspects of the movie were entertaining in a limited context, the overall effect was that of disappointment because nothing of value was gained from the experience of the characters development. Tony arrived home to the welcome of his family and friends who still retained their biases of eggplants. Tony learned to accept Ali, but that acceptance did not extend to all people of color, just Ali.

Ali’s character turns out to be that of a sad, lonely and pathetic individual who never learned the value of family, friends, and acquaintances. African Americans cannot live successfully in America without the support from others which Ali experienced when he visited the local African American club in the town where he was supposed to perform. The movie ends on a sad and tragic note when Ali appears at Tony’s home to save himself from alienation at Christmas not knowing that he was simply an eggplant coming in from the cold.

 

Paul R. Lehman, Talking to kids about race should be a thoughtful, truthful, and rewarding undertaking for the kids

February 8, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Posted in African American, African American hair, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, black inferiority, blacks, Declaration of Independence, democracy, desegregation, discrimination, DNA, education, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, fairness, Hair, Human Genome, identity, integregation, justice, language, Media and Race, minorities, Negro, Oklahoma education, Prejudice, public education, race, Race in America, racism, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, social conditioning, The Oklahoman, tolerance, white supremacy, whites | Leave a comment
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An interesting and troubling article, “Diversity discussion: How to talk to kids about race,” by Melissa Erickson, (The Oklahoman 1/28/2019) appeared in the paper recently and caught my attention because of the topic and the subject mentioned. The first concern was the activity suggested that someone—talk to kids about race. The problem with that activity depends on several things:  the teacher must be someone familiar with race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality; the ethnicity of the students to receive the information, and the approach to discussing the subject. A closer examination of this article was necessary.

A six-year-old boy came home from school one afternoon and surprised his mother with the question, “are you white”? The irony in the question was the fact that his mom’s maiden name was White, so she had to ask him to be more specific. Since he did not have a grasp of the significance of “white” viewed as an ethnic identity, the mother took the time to explain that she was not white and that a person’s skin complexion does not determine an identity unless he or she believes in myths.  Since mothers are their children’s primary teachers caution must be taken in discussing the subject of race with children because the manner in which the information is presented can, and in many cases, affect the children’s psyche in a positive or negative way.

If the teacher or individual introducing the subject of race to children or anyone for that matter, is not knowledgeable regarding race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality then whatever information given the children will be questionable. The most important decision the teacher must make is whether to discuss race as a myth, or race as a reality, or race as a myth viewed as reality. The results of the teacher’s choice will have a lasting effect on the children’s psyche and how they see themselves as well as how they see others, and how others see them.

Serious challenges accompany each of the choices in that the invention/occurrence of race in American society must be presented and justified. If race is viewed as a myth, then its continuation in society is a problem that society must address until the facts become the guiding principle of its use. All myths can be replaced with facts, but not all people will freely accept the facts. The fact about race is that only one exist, the human race. The benefit in presenting race as the myth it is serves to discount all the derivatives associated with race like racism, racial, biracial, etc….

If race is discussed as a reality then the subjects of its derivatives must also be presented which would include bigotry, prejudice, segregation, discrimination, and integration all of which introduce the overarching topic of European American (white) supremacy. The effect that discussing European American (white)supremacy can have on children was noted in the article: “Studies from the 1940s demonstrated that black American children [African American] as young as 3 associated more negative characteristics :(”bad,” “ ugly,”) to dolls with darker skin and more positive attributes to dolls with light skin and blue eyes (“pretty, “good” ).” So, teaching information about race as a reality would produce a negative affect on how children view themselves and others based on their skin complexion. The teacher would also be tasked with justifying the system of European American (white) supremacy in its many manifestations, especially, European American (white) privileges.

If race is discussed as a myth viewed as reality then the teacher has the responsibility to acknowledge the difference between the two and deliberately choose the way of hypocrisy. In other words, if the teacher knows that race is not biological but chooses to ignore that fact and discuss the myth as reality then a gross disservice is committed against the children and society.  The teacher’s decision to follow the myth as reality involves viewing American society as two-sided—one side that wants and fights from the democratic principles imbedded in the Constitution and Declaration, and one side that is bigoted, self-centered, and controlling using a philosophy of ethnic supremacy  favoring European Americans. Although the teacher’s intentions might be seemingly good, the effect of teaching young children about race, diversity, and tolerance would condition their young minds to look for differences in each other that are man-made and minor while avoiding the majority of things they have in common that are good and biological.

When race is taught so is bigotry because it unites and divides—us and them. One cannot avoid the facts of American slavery and ethnic diversity that accompanies a discussion on race. How would the teacher explain the actions of a Christian society that dehumanized people of color by enslaving them and then blaming their enslavement on the color of their skins? How would the teacher prevent the European American children from feeling guilty for the treatment of the slaves by their ancestors? How would the teacher underscore to the children the objective of teaching diversity that should seek to unite all people as one human family and not individual biologically races, while focusing primarily on their differences? The article noted Darnise C. Martin’s comment that “Conversations can be had about dolls, hair, superheroes and just generally helping children know that they are not any less because of skin color.” The problem with that comment is the underling assumption that race is acceptable and tolerable, but can be explained to the children without any psychological effects.

What happens at time when certain subjects are considered for discussions is that little effort is given to defining the terms to be used in and during the discussion because the assumption is that everybody already knows the meanings. Too often we act as though we do not see or realize the bigoted side of American society while we are enacting laws and policies that do just that. For example, sub-standard schools did not appear by accident nor were they invented by African Americans. The history of the African American and other people of color have never been a regular part of the public school curriculum, only Western civilization’s story. So why would we want to continue to promote a history of race to young children that would continue to promote, maintain, and protect bigotry?

So, what are we suppose to do? Why not just tell the truth about race being a myth and know that as long as we act like it is real, it will appear to be so, and in spite of the fact that our DNA says we are more alike than penguins? However, the minute we decide to focus on truth and facts, the myth will begin to deconstruct.

Paul R. Lehman, Bigotry in our language is a not so hidden secret we can afford to ignore

September 3, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Posted in Africa, African American, African American hair, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, Constitutional rights, criminal justice, Declaration of Independence, discrimination, DNA, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, fairness, Hair, Human Genome, identity, justice, justice system, language, law, Media and Race, minorities, Negro, Prejudice, race, Race in America, racism, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, social conditioning, social justice system, socioeconomics, white supremacy, whites | 2 Comments
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The objective from the very beginning was division and on a permanent basis as the reason the founding fathers invented two races, a black and a white. Unlike the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution that said we are one people, the concept of race has kept us separate and unequal. Subsequently, if we continue believing in the concept of races we will continue to be separate and never fulfill the objective of our democracy. If we are to ever have one nation, we will have to change the way to look, speak, and act towards one another. We also need to understand that the language we use helps to keep us separate. For example, as long as some people view themselves as black and white, they will not come together because of the historical significance of those words. They were meant to keep us apart.

Many well-meaning civic groups actually work against themselves by choosing a name that creates a negative and defensive feeling in others towards them. Take, for example, Black Lives Matter, a group that has an objective that is in keeping with the concept of democracy, but because of the word black in the name, it creates a defensive reaction in the minds of many European Americans.

We also have groups that use words like white, Aryan and caucasian that they believe makes them different from people who do not look like them. Their pronounced goal is to save or preserve the so-call white race. They need to visit history to learn what happens to people who are separated or separate themselves from other people; they become extinct, like for example, the Australian Tasmanian Aboriginals, and in America, the Eire people and the colony of Roanoke.

When civic activists call for unity among people of color, they miss the opportunity to enhance their programs by not inviting all concerned people. We as a society have been conditioned to identify ourselves based on our so-called differences when our objective should be for all to use the same identity. We are all Americans, so why is it necessary to use color or ethnicity as part of identity? When visitors come to America, they come using their cultural identity. When Americans get a passport they provide a picture, but no racial or ethnic identity, because our cultural identity is American, not black or white, Hispanic or Asian etc.

We do ourselves a constant disservice by identifying ourselves as separate groups which have been our legacy since slavery. We have to grasp the reality of our situation understanding that the concept of biological races is a myth, invention, social construction, and lie. Prior to the Human Genome Project, everything about races with the numerous divisions, classifications, and characteristics was conjecture and opinion. We now have scientific proof, validation, and evidence that all human beings are more alike than penguins, and the skin complexion, eye shape and color, and hair texture are not unique to a select group of human beings. We are of one race of beings whether we like it or not.

We might think that language does not play so great a part in our lives and our behavior, but studies old and recent underscore the fact that when the words black and white are used in a sentence referring to an identity, a measured reaction occurs. The reaction for the European American, usually an increased heartbeat, is observed when the word black is used because of the social conditioning associated with the word. African Americans do not experience a similar reaction when the word white appeared in a sentence because they are conditioned to seeing it and without feeling threatened.

The media in American society contributes greatly to the separation of ethnic groups by the way they use inappropriate identity language. For example, if a bank is robbed and the robber was apprehended, nothing pertaining to the robbery is gained when the ethnicity of the robber is identified. Except, in American society today the identity of the robber is omitted if he or she happens to be European American, but the identity is almost always given when the robber ‘s identity is a person of color. The effect of the naming the identity of the ethnic person serves to strengthen the negative stereotype society already has of the person of color.

Another way in which the media contributes to the negative stereotypes and biased attitudes held by some Americans relative to people of color has to do with the mentioning of the geographic location of an incident that is readily identified as being in a location where predominately people of color reside. Again, the mere mention of the location adds to the negative stereotype held by many people familiar with the location.

Today, with all the problems America is facing relative to our government and the various policies being addressed both positively and negatively, we need to take the opportunity to add our concept of race and identity into the mix and deal with it once and for all. We continue to talk about racism as if it was legitimate rather than bigotry which is what has been and continues to be practiced in society. Yes, our language uses the word racism to talk about social biases, but simultaneously serves to keep the concept of races alive and our society separate. We need to decide what kind of society we want to live in as well as our children and grandchildren. Once we make that choice, we need to get to work and make it happen. We have been talking about racism for three hundred years to no avail because we are still talking about it without a change in the daily behaviors of people. Racism is not the problem, we are because we refuse to accept the fact that we have been living in a false reality. What we cannot continue pretending to not see is the rapidly changing demographics that will force changes in society relative to cultural and ancestral identities.

We currently have an opportunity to make great strides in addressing our oneness as a society by debunking the myth of race and working to make America what it was meant to be a democracy. We will not and cannot get to where we want, and need, to be if we do not change from using our misleading ethnically biased language of bigotry.

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