Tags: African American celebrities, African Americans, American Education, current-events, European Americans, media, meetings with the President-elect Trump, politics, President Trump, President-elect Trump, representation, subjective interpretation
Once President Trump won the nomination and set up his office in Trump Tower, he had numerous individuals coming to pay him a visit. Among some of these visitors were a number of popular African Americans. Because of the baggage that President Trump brought with him from his campaign that was seen as ethnically biased against African Americans, many people questioned the reasons for African Americans going to Trump Tower. Regardless of their reasons for visiting with then President-elect Trump, the photo opportunity after the meetings of these African Americans with Trump sent a message that he was using them to show the country and the world that he was not biased. The problem with that interpretation is that these African American individuals represented only themselves, not the national community of people of color.
Some years ago, a European American politician in Oklahoma was asked why he did not come into the African American community to campaign for votes. He answered that he had met with all the important African Americans in the community and paid them off for the community’s vote. So, there was no need to try to win the votes of individuals when he already had the community vote in his pocket. In other words, all this politician had to do was to meet with a few popular African American and pay them to publicly support his campaign. So, although we are not questioning the rights and integrity of the individual African Americans who visited with Trump nor their reasons for the visit, we do not want the lasting impression from their visits to be that they were making a deal with him on behalf of the African American people. The African American citizens have not given their voting power or influence to any popular African American individual nor can they because African Americans and people of color do not represent a monolith.
When America saw various African Americans of note having their pictures taken with President-elect Trump and saying words in praise of him, that occasion gave many of them an opportunity to pause and think about what they saw. Why, after a campaign that was filled with disparaging and negative things about people of color, not to mention the “birther” campaign that was conducted for several years, would a prominent African American want to be photographed with Trump? Regardless of their reasons, meeting with and being photographed with the President-elect was their right and privilege. However, the implications associated with such meetings bring to awareness some conundrums—did the President-elect cut any deals or make any promises with these individuals? If so, what were they, who did they impact, how will they be implemented, and when? One certainty we know from experience—deals and promises made with individuals acting as individuals are not binding to the people these individuals seemingly represent.
In addition, the photo opportunities of the African Americans with the President-elect Trump gave the viewers the suggestion that some type of negotiations might have taken place. Whether deals or promises were part of the conversations, only the parties involved know what transpired because the people were not privy to them. Again, the problem that needs to be resolved is whether the individual African Americans were representing themselves, or were they speaking on behalf of a group of people. If they were at their meetings as individuals only, then no problem exists. However, if they gave the impression that they were speaking on the behalf a group of people, then they should have said so. No single individual can know and communicate the needs and wants of every community in America specifically; that is why organizations of concerned and active people exist. The meetings with individuals create a problem of perception, not one of individual rights and privileges.
One problem with individuals meeting with Trump and having the meeting seen as an individual representing the African American community is when organized national and community organizations request meeting with Trump to discuss some concerns, his response could be that he had already discussed those concerns with one or two individuals earlier. Evidently, the organizations did not get the memo about the meetings. The fact that the photo opportunities with the African Americans and the President-elect Trump serve as evidence that he met with them could be used as proof of his concern for some of the challenges in the various communities, and then suggest that anyone with a concern seek out these African Americans for answers to their questions.
Some people might suggest in defense of these individual Africans Americans if they are not representing an organization, that Martin Luther King, Jr. met individually with leaders, so that proves the acceptance of this type of activity. No so! King always spoke as a representative of a group of concerned citizens, and he was seldom alone at such meetings. Throughout history the media has taken the opportunity, on occasion, to create spoke persons for the African American community by simply showing them again, and again responding to questions asked by the media. Booker T. Washington became a national leading figure for the African American community when the media took a quote from a speech he delivered at the 1895 Atlanta Cotton Exposition focusing on “separate but equal” status for African Americans and broadcast it nationwide. Because of that nationwide coverage, Washington became the most influential African American of his day. So, we know what exposure to the media can do for individuals.
The American public has been conditioned to think incorrectly that one person can speak for all people of color. So, when an individual of color is shown by the media making a statement or responding to a question, the public could easily view that individual as representing an entire group. Unfortunately, that perception is what comes to mind when an African American celebrity is shown in a photo opportunity with President Trump. If such meetings between Trump and African American celebrities involve problems and concerns facing African Americans and other people of color and deals are made, the strength of the groups and organizations whose purpose is to address these problems with the President or his representatives is greatly weakened.
All individual have a right to meet and speak with anyone they choose, especially if that person is the President of the United States. However, all individual do not have the right to speak for a group of people they do not officially represent or to give that impression to the public. These individuals certainly have the right to speak on any topic they choose as long as they represent only themselves.
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, African ancestry, biracial, black, current-events, discrimination, DNA, ethnic identity, ethnicity, European Americans, identity, mixed race, Passing, Prejudice, race, skin color, skin complexion, slavery, white
One of the negative and lasting components of slavery and the creation of a black and white race is the value placed on being identified as white or part white. During slavery, a slave identified as being part white sold for a higher price than slaves who were considered Negro or black. Because race was based on skin complexion, fooling the system was easily accomplished by slaves who could present themselves as white. After slavery, that practice became know as “passing.”If a person moved away from his or her environment where his or her ancestry was common knowledge, then one could live his or her entire life using the white identity. However, the fear of being discovered by someone who knew the person passing was always present. Many stories, true and fictional, have been written recounting the experiences of individuals passing.
When we examine the stories of people involved in passing, we realize that the risk of being caught often resulted in death, but the rewards were opportunities for liberties and freedoms enjoyed by the majority society. The key to the entire system, however, was based on race by color, which was ineffective and faulty because it is an illusion, and lacking any empirical proof. After the Civil War the nation not only continued the system of race by color, but also introduced more illogical, unreasonable and irrational aspects to its existence. For example, Oklahoma, along with other states, created laws that stated in effect that any person of African ancestry was to be considered Negro or Colored. If we were to give some thought to that law, we would discover that the law evidently viewed Africa as a country, not a continent. Also, how would one discover the ancestry of another as African since eighty percent of the world’s population has dark skin? Today, because of DNA, we would have to include all human beings as having African ancestry. So, we know the system was flawed from the beginning.
The problem we face today is one that creates a variety of discussions because many people never challenged the system of race by color, but accepted it along with the supposed values that being white represented. Fortunately, our society is changing in ways that will soon make the concept of race by color irrelevant. The so-called “One Drop Rule” or African ancestry rule was based on illusion, not fact, so to continue to embrace it would be just as fool-hearty. None-the-less, many Americans identify themselves as being mixed-race, or bi-racial, or some other term used to discern the inclusion of white blood in their ancestry because they believe it adds to their social value. How ridiculous is that? If the creation of a white race was false at the beginning, regardless of how one mixes it, it will always be false.
A person’s race has nothing to do with his or her skin color; all people belong to the human race. The primary reason for African Americans being called blacks, Negro, and colored was to keep them from knowing and using their cultural and/or geographical identity by their slave masters. On the other hand, European Americans used their white identity as a symbol of power and privilege associated with the Anglo-Saxons. Rather than use their cultural or geographical identities, many Irish, Jews, Italians, Poles, Slavs and many others as well, changed their names and moved to locations where they “passed” as European American (Anglo-Saxons) to avoid discrimination. Ironically, once these so-called lesser Americans became accepted as whites, they adopted the same attitude of bigotry and biases as the majority society especially relative to African Americans. That way they could conceal their real ethnic identity.
Race is the primary point on which this discussion rest. If one accepts the term and how it has been employed historically, then one is doomed to confusion and frustration, because any argument involving race becomes curricular. That is, if one starts with a false premise, the result must also be false, and so it is with race. Many people of mixed cultural and geographic ancestry face difficulty in deciding how to identify themselves, and so they use terms like biracial or mixed race. These terms simply underscore the acceptance of the illusion of multiple biological races from which they choose to belong. Had they used the terms ethnic group or ethnically mixed, then their identity would reflect cultures and or geographical certainties once they disclosed them. What happens when someone of mixed ethnicity identifies him or herself by one ethnic identity, that selection should be made on the basis of the individual’s choice or preference; to make that choice because of what society or some irrational rule or law based on race by color suggest is illogical.
If someone makes the choice of ethnic identity based on what society suggests, like the one drop rule, then that person is doing a disservice to one or more aspects of his or her ancestry and of the parent representing the part left out. That choice is no longer necessary in our society. People do not have to identify themselves as black or white; they can, however, identify themselves as African American or European American, but even that is not mandatory. Just ask the Census Bureau.
Many African American people of note have been accused of avoiding their ethnic identity by passing for European American. The term passing has relevance only when one has accepted the false concept of multiple biological races. The desire to identify with a particular group is a normal tribal reaction because group identity provides a sense of comfort, protection, and unity, something most people want. But, since we are all human beings, no part of our ancestry makes us more or less than any other human being. Since we are all members of the same human family, we should begin to celebrate our likenesses rather than any superficial differences we might have.
America is changing and involved in a struggle relative to our social identity. However, the more we learn about ourselves, the better able we are to live in the present and prepare for a future that respects the value of each individual.