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, The power of language continues to enslave American society

August 21, 2018 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Africa, African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, democracy, desegregation, discrimination, education, employment, entitlements, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, fairness, Genealogy,, identity, integregation, justice, language, law, lower class, Media and Race, minority, Prejudice, race, Race in America, racism, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, social conditioning, socioeconomics, Stokely Carmichael, the 'n' word, the Black Codes, white supremacy, whites | Leave a comment
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One of the constant conundrums challenging America today is race; the reason for it being constant is because while we experience and observe it, we can only describe it, not defines it. We cannot define race because it is a concept based on conjecture and myths.  Since the Greeks and Romans did not know why the sun rose and set every twenty-four hours, they made up a story about it. The story had some facts in it relative to the movement of the sun, but the facts were surrounded by fiction. Apparently, they thought that Apollo drove his chariot around the heavens riding up to the center of the sky in the morning, and down to the horizon at night. Fortunately, scientists came along to give more precise information about the sun and its relations to the earth. Today, the world knows the actual movement of the sun as well as the other celestial bodies in the universe and no longer need to invent myths. Unfortunately, we have not arrived at that point with the use of the term race. The myth continues because we have not decided to rid ourselves of its power to control our mind and bodies.

Language is the most important tool used in transmitting not only information but also a controlling influence over society. When the slave masters took away the slaves’ identity, history, and culture, they forced on the slaves a language that was meant to keep them enslaved. The language was such an important tool that the slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write it. The punishment for anyone caught teaching a slave to read or write were heavy fines, whippings, or imprisonment, depending on the state in which it occurred. The slave owners knew that language as a tool could be used to control minds, but they also knew that it could also be used to liberate minds as well.

One way in which language was used to control society was when it constantly reminded European Americans that they were superior to all people of color, and it reminded people of color that they were inferior to European Americans. Once the captive Africans arrived in America and were stripped of their identities and past; they were forced to accept the reality of slavery. The language they used always pictured them as inferior and European Americans as powerful, privileged, and in total control of society. The African captives knew that they were not Negroes, blacks, or other terms associated with their identity, but they were defenseless to do anything about it for fear of repercussions, including death. After years of social conditioning in which the language constantly reminded the African Americans that they were Negroes, blacks, colored, and a host of other denigrating terms, their actual identity became less of a concern than their civil rights as citizens.

In the early 1960’s language was used as a tool for protest by African Americans who combined identity with the fight for civil rights with the phrase “Black Power.”  Africans were forced to wear the identity of black from the beginning of American slavery and it was used as a derogatory and denigrating term. Even African Americans used the term as derogatory within the African American community. However, when the phrase “Black Power” was used by Stokely Carmichael during a 1960’s civil rights rally, it gained legs and moved throughout the national African American community as well as society at large via music and media. The reference to “black” was used to engender a new sense of pride and positive value to what was once viewed as insulting and denigrating to African Americans. The power of language to influence worked to change the negative concept of blackness as an identity for African Americans to one of positivity, pride, and beauty.

While the language shift worked to provide a new sense of self for the African Americans relative to a black identity, it accomplished little for the European American since no change occurred in their conception and use of the word black as derogatory. The major misconception of the African American community nationally was that the word black would somehow be transformed to represent a new identity. The problem with that happening is that the space the word black occupied in the language could and would not be replaced simply by repetition. Although European Americans could use the word white for their identity, it carried no negative connotations, just the opposite.  Many Europeans abandoned their cultural identity to accept the white identity because of the power and prestige it provided them. African Americans because they did not use their cultural or ancestral identities were forced to be identified as blacks and Negroes. Two reasonable identity choices are African American or people of color, but only for ancestral identities. The cultural identity has always been American.

Many people of color in America accept the word black as a form of identity without realizing that the words black and white are adjectives, not nouns; that is, as nouns they represent colors, but as adjectives, they usually precede the noun race. Therefore, if the word black is used as a noun, it serves no purpose as an identity because it represents no cultural or ancestral ethnicity. If the word black is used as an adjective proceeding race, then the identity is based on a false concept of a black race that is viewed as a monolith which is also incorrect. In other words, the use of the slave masters’ language still represents some control over society’s identities.

The late Malcolm X learned that language as a social tool could provide an element of power and influence. So, he worked hard to become proficient in the use of language, and as a result was able to educate, enlighten, inform, irritate, and intimidate his audiences. Partly due to his early death he had not gained the level of understanding that would have helped to unlock the door of ignorance relative to how language managed to retain control of the concept of race. He did, however, recognized that the identity given the African captives upon their arrival was not their true identity and so he rejected his family name (usually taken from the slaves’ former owner or master) and replaced it with the letter X which is symbolic for the unknown.  American society’s challenge now is to recognize how language has been used to control us so we can set about the business of freeing ourselves. We cannot resolve a problem if we do not recognize that it exists.

 

Paul R. Lehman, Both Bill Maher and Sen. Ben Sasse complicit is reference to the n-word

June 7, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, desegregation, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, justice, Prejudice, Race in America, segregation, Slavery, the 'n' word, white supremacy, whites | 2 Comments
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What does one usually think of when the following pronouns are used: we, us, our, and my? Depending on the context in which they are used, Americans generally think they are included in those pronouns. For example when we read or say the phrase “We the people of the United States,” or “Our forefathers,” and “My country tis of thee,” we usually assume that we are personally included in the pronoun. The fact is that people of color, including Hispanics and Asians, as well as many Eastern and Southern Europeans were not included for many year prior to the 1900’s. Those pronouns referred only to American Anglo-Saxon males for the most part until the early 1920’s. Basically, when European Americans are asked to close their eyes and picture a group of a dozen Americans, the likelihood of the presence of people of color in that mental picture is not very great, unless the European Americans had frequent and close involvement with culturally diverse people.

Before school desegregation was instituted, many European Americans had little to no contact with people of color because the schools, churches, and communities were segregated. That segregation helped to condition the mental landscape of many European Americans to exclude African Americans as part of society. European Americans were conditioned to give little or no social value to African Americans which meant not viewing them as social equals. With the arrival of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, an awareness of African Americans as citizens with rights and privileges equal to those of European Americans, the mental picture of Americans began to change, a little. One of the things that the civil rights act did was to underscore the separateness of the various ethnic groups. This feat was accomplished through the use of language; the terms minorities and race underscore the existence of both entities. If so-called races did not exist, they could not be discriminated against. Right? They can only be discriminated against and deprived of rights only if they exist. So, when the Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, by naming the elements in the law, it underscored their presence in society.

The Civil Rights Act presented a series of new problems for European Americans because now they have to be mindful of other people in society besides themselves. The European Americans had to not only give social value to African Americans but also recognize the fact that they shared social rights and privileges with them. This law was a new and great departure from what was considered the norm for European Americans. The challenge to conform to the law still represents a challenge to many European Americans today.

Often, when European Americans are in the company of African Americans or know that an audience of African Americans will hear what they say, they will be consciously on guard to avoid any word of statement that might suggest ethnic bias of anything that might sound pejorative towards African Americans. However, if the European Americans are in the company of other European Americans, they will not be on guard relative to their ethnic biases unless the person or persons in whose company they are in are sensitive to ethnic slurs. Otherwise, the European Americans will voice their biases freely without concern for repercussions. Remember, these ethnic biases are not something extraneous to European Americans, but part of their normal mindset, part of the system of European American superiority and African American inferiority.

A recent incident captured on television involving Bill Maher and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska during an interview demonstrates the challenges of replacing the system of ethnic bias. During the interview Sasse talked about his new book and also about people who dressed up for Halloween. Sasse said that the practice was frowned upon in Nebraska. Maher then said that he has to get to Nebraska more. Sasse then said that “You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.” Maher narrowing his eyebrows stated, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house (n-word).” For the readers unfamiliar with the term “house N-word,” the reference is to the duties given to African/African American slaves who were generally off-springs of the master or a male from his family. Their duties did not include the harsh and brutal work in the fields, but work in and around the master’s house. In addition, the status of the slaves was reflected in the duties he or she performed.

Once Maher made the statement, the audience noted the offense to which Maher stated that “It’s a joke.” Neither man stopped to comment on the reference, but continued the interview. The point here is that nothing was said at the moment, with the exception of Maher’s reference to it being a joke, to correct the disparaging remark and its reference to enslaved people.  One possible reason for the lack of attention paid to the seriousness of the remark is the fact that the two men forgot where they were, and being relaxed and familiar with one another simply let their guards down. Had the audience not reacted to the reference, chances are that both men would have continued the interview never realizing that something amiss had happened. Both men are guilty of failing to acknowledge the effect of the reference and to apologize immediately. That did not happen because the reference to the n-word has been a part of their normal social language that it did not represent a departure from the normal until the audience noted it.

Many changes are taking place in our society as well as in the world that affect us daily. One of the changes has to do with the changing demographics and the growing cultural diversity that has become a part of our everyday life. For many European Americans these changes bring great challenges because they slowly deconstruct what was considered normal to them. What at one time was considered normal and acceptable to European Americans in American society is no longer acceptable and continued use can result in serious repercussions. That is no joke.

Paul R. Lehman,Ethnic bigotry on the judicial bench—a case in point

May 3, 2017 at 12:10 am | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, Criticism, democracy, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, fairness, interpretations, justice, justice system, law, Oklahoma, race, Race in America, respect, skin color, social justice system, socioeconomics, the 'n' word, The Oklahoman, white supremacy | 1 Comment
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Many Americans believe that as a society we have made tremendous progress in our acceptance of one another as equals regardless of our skin color. Although we would like to believe this, the fact of the matter is that ethnic bigotry permeates the whole of American society in the system of European American (white) supremacy. In many cases, the bigotry is subtle and often passes for ignorance or innocence. At other times, the bigotry is so apparent; it cannot be excused with some form of rationale. One of the features of European American supremacy is expressed in an attitude of superiority over the ideas, opinions, and statements of people of color, especially African Americans. A case in point occurred recently in an article by Randy Ellis, in The Oklahoman, “Black judge: Repeating ‘n’ word in appellate opinion was ‘unnecessary.’(4/29/2017)

According to the article, the only African American judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, Vice Presiding Judge David Lewis, made the statement regarding his fellow judge’s opinion: “I concur in the decision reached by the court in this matter. However I write separately to point out that the author of this opinion did not have to repeat the repugnant language used by the appellant.” Lewis’ words to his colleague, Judge Gary Lumpkin, were to alert him to the sensitivity of the word to him, and indeed to the public, and that he found its frequent repetition unnecessary. Lewis wrote that “The repeated use of the ‘n’ word in this opinion was unnecessary to the reader’s understanding of the language used by the appellant, and unnecessary to the court’s resolution of this case.”

In many cases like this one, the judge receiving comments of this nature would recognize the lack of sensitivity shown in his or her case and offer an apology for the offense and a “thank you” for the cautionary note from the colleague. One would think that a judge on the bench today would be fully apprised of the sensitive nature of the ‘n’ word. The article noted that: “Judge Lumpkin quoted the racial slur verbatim in his opinion, while Lewis used the euphemistic expression ‘n’ word in his criticism.”

What followed, according to the article, underscored the apparent ethnic bigotry that exists not only in society but also on the bench: “Robert Hudson, another judge on the court, defended Lumpkin’s decision to quote the racial slur.” Rather than accepting Lewis’ words to Lumpkin as a form of “corrective criticism,” and an appeal to his better judgment, Hudson interpreted Lewis’ comments as an affront to Lumpkin’s judgment and continued “Our cases reflect reality and that reality is oftentimes not pretty.” In other words, Hudson seems to imply that one reality trumps another reality; in this case, the reference to an African American slur word, which could have easily been avoided, should be used regardless of its offensiveness to his fellow judge and society. The question is why would a judge continued to use an offensive ethnic slur word when he knows that it can easily be avoided. European American arrogance?

Robert Hudson excused Lumpkin’s use of the ‘n’ word by noting that: “’…if we are willing to erase highly relevant—albeit offensive—facts from our opinions, we will send a terrible message to the bench, bar and public that the truth, when objectionable, should be redacted merely to avoid controversy.” Hudson tried to use aspects of the case to make his point, but it fails on the history of prior court practices. The details of a sexual attack perpetrated on some young female would be not reused time and again verbatim if the judge knew that the language was sensitive to her and the court.

The point relative to this article focuses more on the attitude and actions of the two European American judges rather than the actual case. For example, if the three judges were having lunch together, and one of the European American judges started to tell an offensive ethnic joke and the African American judge stopped him and asked that he not tell the joke in his presence because he found it to be offensive, common sense dedicates that a reasonable person would acquiesce and not tell the joke. However, if the other European American judge wanted to hear the joke and encouraged the teller of the joke to continue, we would realize that he had no regards for the feelings of his African America colleague. In addition, he showed disrespect by his actions, and that his selfish desire was more important than his colleague’s feelings and request. The African American’s request was that the joke not be told in his presence, not that it not be told at all.

The system of European American (white) supremacy has conditioned the European Americans to view African Americans and other people of color as inferior regardless of their social, economic, educational, political and judicial status. That system causes European Americans to view reality through a warped sense of value. For example, when the topic of race is ever brought into a conversation, the European American rarely thinks of him or herself as being part of a race. They have been falsely conditioned to view themselves as representatives of the human race—everyone else belongs to a different race. In addition, they see themselves as being the center of the universe and in control of society.

So, when Lewis, the African American judge said to his colleague that he found the repetition of the ‘n’ word to be excessive and unnecessary to the case, Hudson, a European American judge, and colleague of both Lumpkin and Lewis took exception to Lewis’ comments. Lewis had said previously that the repetition of the ‘n’ word verbatim had no direct bearing on the outcome of the case. Hudson used his sense of superiority to castigate Lewis for speaking the truth to his European colleague. So, Hudson had to put the African American judge in his “place” as an inferior. Hudson, seemingly, believed that his opinion regarding Limpkin’s excessive use of the ‘n’ word over-ruled or trumped the opinion of Lewis for no other reason than he was European American.

Some people might think that these comments are simply making a mountain out of a molehill by suggesting that ethnic bigotry was at the core of Hudson’s criticism of Lewis. When read carefully, the article noted that Lewis agreed with the finding of the case. He just felt the use of the ‘n’ word was excessive. Because of the socially biased conditioning of Hudson’s and European Americans generally, their ability to relate to insensitive words or phrases directed at ethnic Americans of color are rarely perceived and understood. However, even large learning curves can be overcome with effort

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