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.

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