Paul R. Lehman, Ferguson, Missouri will represent a positive change in America.

August 19, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Posted in African American, American Dream, American history, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, Civil War, Constitutional rights, desegregation, discrimination, Equal Opportunity, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, freedom of speech, justice, liberty, lower class, minority, public education, race, Slavery, socioeconomics, Southern states, state Government, The Oklahoman, upper class | 2 Comments
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We have seen and heard about the treatment of African Americans by the police establishment from the East coast to the West coast and many places in between. Sometimes the question “why does this pattern of aggression by the police against African Americans exist? Whether than trying to answer that question now, we must first take a look at why the attitude and behavior of the police establishment is in question in the first place. Then, we will understand what is going on in our society relative to the African American community and the police today.
When slavery was in its early years in America, race and color were insignificant because the objective was profit. Slavery was always a business and the only value slaves had to their owners was measured in dollars. However, the English brought over to the new world the concept of Africans as a lower order of humans and were not viewed as equal to the Europeans. Most slaves were treated equally bad except with respect to the European (white) slaves. Even as slaves, they were given special treatment as we learn from history:
In 1705, masters were forbidden to ‘whip a Christian white servant naked.’ Nakedness was for brutes, the uncivil, the non-Christian. That same year, all property—horses, cattle, and hogs’—was confiscated from slaves and sold by the church wardens for the benefit of poor whites. By means of such acts, social historian Edmond Morgan argues, the tobacco planters and ruling elite of Virginia raised the legal status of lower-class whites relative to that of Negroes and Indians, whether free, servant, or slave (The Making of the Negro in Early American Literature, p.35).
So, from the very beginning, people of color were discriminated against in favor of Europeans. The term “Christian” was used as pertaining to people from Europe who were considered civilized. The importance of this history is to note the lack of social value or respect given to people of color and especially Africans and African Americans.
When we move ahead one hundred and fifty years to the Civil War period, we find the same attitude and sentiment regarding the lack of social value and respect withheld from the African Americans by the majority society. The need to keep total control of the African Americans after the Civil War by the majority society can be seen in the laws that were created by the various states; those laws were known throughout the South as the Black Codes. These codes further established and endorsed the devaluing of the African American as we see in the reference to the Mississippi Black Code:
The status of the Negro was the focal problem of Reconstruction. Slavery had been abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, but the white people of the South were determined to keep the Negro in his place, socially, politically, and economically. This was done by means of the notorious “Black Codes,” passed by several of the state legislatures. Northerners regarded these codes as a revival of slavery in disguise. The first such body of statues, and probably the harshest, was passed in Mississippi in November 1865. (
The perception of respect and social value of the African Americans began to change after the Brown v Topeka Board of Education case in 1954, and continued on through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-1968. America’s changes were starting to become more inclusive of African Americans regarding Constitutional and Civil Rights, much to the dismay of many did not like or want the changes. Throughout America’s early history the need to recognize and respect the presence and rights of the African American were so low that the phrase “A ‘n’ ain’t worth shit” pretty much summed-up the sense of value society had for the African Americans.
When we look at the relationships the police nation-wide have with communities of color, especially African Americans, we see reflected the same old attitudes and perceptions that have long been a staple of the European American mind-set. Regardless of the visible changes occurring in America today edging more towards an ethnically diverse society, many Americans refuse to accept the change. The police departments generally reflect the attitude of the majority society and therefore, see not a unified community, but two—one European American (white), and those who are not—generally people of color.
What the nation is experiencing in Ferguson, Missouri is not something totally unexpected, but an example of a changing society. As we morn the loss of the many African Americans to the bigotry and biases of the old mind-set expressed through law enforcement agencies, etc…, we can take heart in the fact that they do not die in vain, but in an effort to bring to the fore the problems that must be addressed in society to meet the changes that must take place. Ferguson, as well as the nation, will be a better place for all to live once the problems of representation and cooperation are addressed—problems that would have remained hidden without the tragedy of loss. As a society, we have yet to recognize and debunk the fallacy of race. No problems of equality, fairness, and justice will ever be resolved in America as long as people see themselves as black and white. No such races exist except as part of an illusion.
To underscore the lack of understanding of this problem, we turn to a comment made by Michael Gerson in a recent article, “The paradox of diversity,” where he noted concerning Ferguson, Missouri:
“But events in Ferguson demonstrate the paradox of American diversity: An increasing multicultural nation remains deeply divided by race and class. There are many more friendships and marriages between white and minority Americans (about one in 12 marriages is interracial)—but at the same time racially charged suspicions and anger persists among millions. And a broad perception of our own racial acceptance has created a different form of isolation—a self-satisfaction that obscures or masks deep social divisions. (The Oklahoman, 8/16/2014)
Gerson’s comments represent the problem and the solution in that the nation is divided, but changing to a less racial society. The changes will come as a result of the actions of the people who are adversely affected by the problems that are uncovered when the actions of the society, or a police force, raises their, as well as the rest of society’s consciousness. As a nation, we must continue to tear down the wall of races that separates us unnecessarily. The times are changing, and we cannot stop that.


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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