Paul R. Lehman, Removal of symbols of ethnic bias show signs of social change

May 24, 2016 at 3:53 am | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, democracy, discrimination, education, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, justice, justice system, law, Media and Race, minority, Oklahoma, Oklahoma education, Prejudice, President Obama, Race in America, skin color, social justice system, textbooks, The Oklahoman, Tulsa, Tulsa Riot 1921, whites | 1 Comment
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One of the general misconceptions many Americans have today is that ethnic prejudice is a thing of the past and only vestiges of it remain. For evidence of this social change some point to the removable of the Confederate flag from some Southern state flags as well as a number of statues and monuments that underscore the hatred and bigotry felt by many European Americans for African Americans during and after slavery. Another sign of attempts to remove symbols of ethnic bigotry on many college and university campuses is the removing of names of known bigots from buildings and other structures on the campus. For many institutions, this act of name removable represents a great and serious undertaking because many of those names belong to people who were considered deserving of the honor of recognition at the time they were displayed. What has changed to cause the removable of many of theses former honored contributors from their place of recognition?

One answer can be found in history, but not necessarily the history written in school books; school book history was tailor-made to support the ethnic bigotry of the day. Much of the actual history resides in the old newspapers and journals of early America. What that history tells us is that ethnic bigotry was considered normal; to not be a bigot was considered not normal if one happened to be a European American (white). So, when people of the early American past were given honors via placing their names on buildings and other edifices, little attention was paid to or reference made to their ethnic bigotry. Such was apparently the case with the University of Tulsa naming one of its structures after John Rogers.

In an article in the Oklahoman (5/20/2016) “Building controversy provide cautionary tale,” on the “Opinion” page, the writer tells about the removal of Roger’s name from a TU building, not just any building: “University of Tulsa officials recently decided to remove John Roger’s name from TU’s college of law, which he helped found, because of his 1920s association with the Ku Klux Klan.”The fact that the building was the college of law which Roger helped to found gives us some additional insight as to the mindset of the people of Oklahoma during this time. The article underscores the fact that “racists views of the Klan were not out of line with the thinking of many respectable people, across the nation, during Oklahoma’s early decades.” Few European Americans gave notice to the abuse, violence and death the Klan visited on African Americans. Since many of the up-standing, civic-minded, Christian, European American citizens were also Klan members, not many Oklahomans were told about the destruction and death caused by many of the good citizens of Tulsa in 1921 when the Greenwood area was demolished. The Klan has always stood for European American (white) supremacy and the inferiority of African Americans.

What we refer to today as a bigot was not considered bad or evil or even unpatriotic for early European Americans; as a mater of fact, the Klan for many European Americans was seen as an anti-crime, civic-minded, “temperance organization.” Many of its members included bankers, businessmen, lawyers, educators, and even clergy. Helping to promote and maintain the Klan’s views while passing them on to the children, were the text books. The article cited this reference: “Consider the 1914 biology textbook at the center of the famed Scopes ‘monkey’ trial in Tennessee. Based on evolutionary theory, that book matter-of-factly declared there were ‘five races or varieties of man,… ‘“The article continued by listing the Ethiopian or Negro, the Malay or brown people, the American Indian, the Mongolians and finally, “the Caucasians represented by civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.”

The article underscored the importance of the text book: “That children’s text book advocated eugenic, and said of supposedly inferior people, ‘If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.” Such was the mindset of many of the European American Oklahomans in the early 1920s according to the article. However, in another article in the Oklahoman (5/6/2016) ‘These were everywhere,’ tells of the many Klan klaverns in Oklahoma before and during the 1940s. This article tells some of the Klan’s activities as in the following reference: “A story in the Nov. 21, 1920, edition of The Daily Oklahoman describes Klansmen terrorizing residents in Guthrie, threatening farmers, business owners and residents in the city’s black quarter with death.” Also it included: “According to the story, the Klan forbid cotton growers from paying pickers more than $1.25 per hundred pounds picked, and blacks were threatened with death and burning if they asked for a higher wage.”

The Klan article showed a map of Klan chapters in Oklahoma in the early 1940—it was home to 102 chapters. The article concluded with the findings that “The Southern Poverty Law Center recognized 10 Klan-affiliated groups last year in Oklahoma.” Although laws have changed over the years, many attitudes and minds still embrace the once normal bigoted psyche. The lingering hate and fear of African Americans in some Oklahomans might easily be assumed from the fact that all seventy-seven counties voted against Barack Obama two times—2008 and 2012. Obama was not liked by many European Americans before he had a chance to assume his office; the reason given for his unpopularity was not his skin color but his political party.

We can certainly applaud the efforts of the University Tulsa to remove symbolic references to our biased past and support them in their actions. We can also applaud the efforts of the Oklahoman’s article discussing the removal of John Roger’s name from TU’s law college and shedding some light on why the removal is important. One of the most challenging aspects of American society today is to understand that because the normal mindset of European Americans is biased towards African Americans and other people of color, “basic morality and common sense” must be redefined without the bias. For us to assume that ethnic bigotry simply fades away into the woodwork over time would be wrong; removing it takes great effort mainly because many people do not realize they are biased.


Paul R. Lehman, Articles on race in the new Oklahoma Humanities Council magazine miss the boat

May 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Posted in American Racism, blacks, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Killings in Tulsa, Media and Race, OHC, Prejudice, public education, Race in America, Tulsa Riot 1921, whites | 2 Comments
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The Oklahoma Humanities Council has just published a Summer 2012 edition of its magazine, “Oklahoma Humanities.” The focus of this edition is Reconciliation: Looking Back, Pushing Forward Conversations on Race.” The publication is very handsome with excellent graphics and a number of articles with a focus on race. The only problem with this focus on race is that it does not move the discussion one iota towards a so-called reconciliation for a number of reasons: no mention of what is being reconciled, why it is being reconciled, and what it will look like.

One of the problems generally associated with any discussion of race in America is that it lacks a clear definition. What people usually discuss are the results or repercussions of social injustices committed against African Americans with race as the primary object. To make matters more confusing, the history of slavery in America is also factored into the discussion. So, when a discussion of race takes place no one knows for certain what is being discussed. For example, one of the articles in the OHC magazine is entitled “A ‘healing journey’ to confront the issues of race and prejudice.” The article includes some excellent pictures of remnants of buildings in Africa associated with early 1500’s to the middle 1800’s African slave trade. This article could have been written in 1960 for the information it provides relative to the title. The ‘journey” belongs to the writers of the article and provides little information for the readers to build on as for as a reconciliation is concerned. The article talks about slavery and racism as a legacy in America.

In order to understand what is not happening in these articles as well as any article that pretends to deal with race in America, we must understand that these articles will all focus on the past and present with no constructive view of the future. No constructive view of the future is possible because the discussions presented in the articles are enclosed in a small circle that can only focus on what is inside the circle. In essence, when the writers of any work on race begin by accepting the premise of race as being factual, the discussion is over because it cannot move beyond that concept.

My point is not meant to criticize the OHC or the writers of any of the articles, but to question their premise of adding something new or different to the discussion on race when in effect they  only offer information about the American past and present that includes slavery’s legacy.  Attempting to reconcile something that is not defined is like trying to answer the question “what makes water wet?” If one does not stop and think about the question first, chances are he or she will make the mistake of trying to answer the question. The fact is about wetness is that it is a condition that can be created by water; it is not a part of water. Water is not the only liquid that can cause wetness. Race and all its derivatives are all based on something that was socially created and based on false premises.

One common mistake involving discussions on race has to do with how it is perceived. Most social historians examine the narrative, history or story on a chronological line with a starting point and indicating times of significant occurrences along that line. By using this method, periods of time can be identified as past and present with emphasis on significant influences along the way. One result of this method is that the various time periods can be seen as separate entities when in fact they are parts on the same narrative. The problem with this approach is primarily because the narrative is interrupted and viewed in segments and each one can be seen as representing  the basic problem. With respect to race, the problems of  Identity, discrimination, prejudice, segregation, injustice, and fairness exists.. These elements , however, are not the problem—it is the acceptance of the concept of race.

For example, let us look at the problem of segregation that was addressed in the Brown v Topeka Broad of Education in 1954. The Supreme Court’s decision was to order desegregation of the schools. What the Court did not examine was the cause of the segregation—the concept of race. So, while the schools began to desegregate, the elements of bigotry and all the associated forms of injustice continued to grow. When each of the forms or derivatives’ of race are taken as the primary problem, then trying to remedy that particular concern does nothing to remedy the cause of the problem. As long as the cause of the problems created by the acceptance of the concept of races is not addressed and challenged, no progress or reconciliation is possible.

What is generally missing from any discussion of race today is an understanding of how the history really exists. Rather than being in a straight line, the history exists in a circle, connected to the past, present and future. John Paul Lederach, author of The Moral Imagination, says it this way, “As the indigenous world view suggests, social meaning, identity, and story are linked through narrative, which connects the remote past of who we are with the remote future of how we will survive in the context of an expansive present where we share space and relationship.”In other words, we must rethink the way we look at history to better understand the social problems caused by our concept of race so we can better understand how to create the remedy for those problems. For example, some people might assume that since slavery happened a long time ago that it has no relevance to them today. The reason for that kind of thinking is the idea of time being associated only with the people living during that time; they fail to understand that time did not stop nor did the influences and legacies created during that time stop, and that their lives represent an accumulation of those influences and legacies. We cannot place time in a capsule—only things with symbolic meanings relative to a time.

The problem for our society today is to try and acquire a better understanding of who we are, where we are, and how do we want to get to the next level. Our having a better understanding of race would be a good starting point, but the discussion must begin with first defining race and then moving beyond it. The articles in the OHC magazine provide some interesting experiences and information relative to race, but then miss the boat completely on the idea of reconciliation.

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