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.


Paul R. Lehman, The challenge of facing the delusion of whiteness

January 4, 2015 at 4:31 am | Posted in African American, American Dream, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, democracy, DNA, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, immigration, Matthew Frye Jacobson, minority, Prejudice, Race in America, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, social justice system, Thomas A. Guglielmo, White of a Different Color, White on Arrival, whites | 2 Comments
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Many people who identify themselves as white have consciously or unconsciously been living a life of delusions—“a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of a psychiatric condition.” Now that we recognize our society is changing and the truth is coming to light, holding on to false belief becomes more difficult. Just what are these false beliefs? The first is the belief in a so-called white race. Science has proven through DNA the truth that only one race of human being exists on the planet Earth; the concept of a white and black race was created as an act of capitalistic self preservation; the concept of white skin as normal and supreme was a means to social control. All these beliefs are false.
One of the first things European Explorers discovered once they venture outside of Europe was that eighty percent of the world’s population was people of color. That meant only twenty percent of the world was populated by so-called whites. In order to preserve and control their destiny, they devised a plan to accomplish their objective—create a concept of biological races and make the so-called white race superior to all the other non-white races. If the white race could convince the eighty percent people of color that they were superior, then their position would not be challenged; they would be safe. So, the so-called white people used every conceivable element available in society to promote their thesis of white superiority: the law, the Bible, science, history, etc. The problem with the creation of race by color, however, was that it was not consistent or reliable.
A so-called white race cannot be superior to other races if only one race exist, so other forms of support had to be acquired to keep the false belief going. The idea to make the members of the so-called white race the only “normal” human beings was brought into being for white people from all walks of life, from the doctor to the clergy, the businessman to the sharecropper. But how does one reason the fact that eighty percent of the human family is people of color, while only twenty percent is white, but the twenty percent calls itself normal? To accept that scenario defies all common sense and logic. In essence, whites are really the abnormal members of the human family; most just do not know it.
In all fairness to the people who identify themselves as white, we must realize that many of them were born into a society that had already created a deluded society for them. The concept of races, for example had undergone many changes; however, one concept in particular endorsed a five-tier scheme that included “Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, Malay, and American.”In considering the so-called European races,” William Ripley created a three-tiered scheme that included “Nordic,’ “Alpine,” and “Mediterranean.” At the top this group was the Nordic who were considered “vastly superior in intellectual endowments to all other races.”(Thomas A. Guglielmo, White On Arrival))
At the top of the Nordic race was the Anglo-Saxon race whose concept of white supremacy supported the idea of “Manifest Destiny”: “while U.S. conquests across North America and the Pacific at once enacted and reinforced a principle of white supremacy, between at least the 1840s and early twentieth century they were carried out under an ideological banner of Anglo-Saxon supremacy.” Some people, like Josiah Strong, believed “that this race…is destined to dispossess many weaker races, assimilate others, and mold the remainder, until…it has Anglo-Saxonized mankind.” (Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness Of A Different Color)
Unfortunately, something happened that the Anglo-Saxons did not anticipate—Immigration. They believed that the “Europeans from the north and west are infinitely more desirable than those from the south and east: the ‘rising tide of aliens’ or the ‘invading hordes” were making the country ‘the dumping ground of Europe’: and only selective and restrictive immigration legislation would ‘keep the United States American’ [meaning Anglo-Saxon] and would avert ‘national suicide.’” (Guglielmo)
We learned that “a deluge of southern and eastern European immigrant—alternately scorned as ‘slow poison,’ ‘the scum of Europe,’ ‘foreign mush,’ ‘good-for-nothing mongrels,’ or ‘parasite races’ suddenly swamped America. These people ‘half ruined’ and ‘slum-Europeanized’ the country.” (Guglielmo) The result of this concern was the Johnson Act that, in essence limited immigration to Northwestern European immigrants. However, thanks to Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and his coining of the term ‘Caucasian’ in 1798, the southern and eastern Europeans would have a term with which they would be identified. We learned that … “Jacobson takes seriously the racial language that courts, reformers, academics, and others applied to new immigrants and provides an elegant narration of how Italian, Slav, Greek, German, French, Irish, and other European races were gathered under the term “Caucasian” in the twentieth century and thus unified as ‘conclusively’ white.” (David R. Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness)
Many whites know how they came to be identified as such, but they also know that the information denoting race is false and cannot withstand scientific scrutiny, especially since the advances in DNA. The belief that skin color makes a difference is difficult to dismiss among a people who all their lives have been conditioned to think that their color made them special. Today, with the many changes in our society and world, the veneer of whiteness is wearing away and the truth is staring to break thru the façade of race. The negative attitudes, fears, and anger projected by many European Americans relative to African Americans are all based on the social conditioning of bigotry over many years. We know that eventually many of the old Anglo-Saxon ideas and prejudices will be replaced with a sense of a (human) family and patriotic unity.
What we need to understand is that bigoted men created a two-race society, one white, the other non-white or black. To the white race was given privilege, power, prestige, and a sense of normalcy over all non-white races. Over the years many European Americans (whites) simply accepted society’s conditioning without question. Today, all of those misconceptions, that make-up the delusions, are being called into question and debunked. One of the biggest problems society will have to face is recognizing the conundrum. The next is how to go about correcting the delusions. How does one go about undoing years of mind conditioning? One simple thing that can be done is to start avoiding the use of the terms race—black and white; their use separates us. Instead,try using African American and European American respectively or simply American.

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