Paul R. Lehman, Baltimore, a victim of negative explosive expectations and false comparisons

May 1, 2015 at 12:24 am | Posted in African American, American history, Bigotry in America, blacks, Constitutional rights, criminal activity, democracy, Department of Justice, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, freedom of speech, happiness, justice, justice system, law, law enforcement agencies, lower class, Media and Race, minority, police force, Prejudice, public education, Public housing, race, Race in America, social justice system, socioeconomics, students parents, The U.S. Constitution, whites | 1 Comment
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The recent events in Baltimore have for all intent and purposes been blown out of proportions due to faulty expectations as well as propaganda. Had the initial display of lawlessness been address by the local law establishment, the rest of the escalation would not have been necessary. The disruptive unlawful activity began when the local high school near the center of action dismissed school earlier than usual. Many of the teens rather than going home decided to take advantage of a situation presented to them to commit unlawful acts with no one in authority looking on.

One would expect the police to handle the situation involving the young children differently from older adults, but the police never appeared on the scene. The children realized early on that because no law enforcement was present, they could do whatever they wanted without repercussions. So, they acted-out by breaking windows, stealing merchandise, destroying property and other things that they would not think of doing under normal circumstances. These teens were out of control and not thinking rational. The death of Freddie Gray was probably not on their minds. Unfortunately, some adults who witnessed the activity of the teens took advantage of the situation and used it as cover to become involved in lawless acts. So, when the cameras started to show the activity, some adults were pictured along with the teens. The media characterized the teens and their action as violent rioting threatening the entire city.

Regardless who was involved, their actions were wrong and unacceptable, but explainable, given the circumstances of the location, the time, and the youth. What happened after the initial occurrence of the unlawful activity by the teens and some adults was an over-blown accounting of the event. The media began by treating the social out-burst as if the entire city of Baltimore was being burned to the ground by gangs of violent, lawless, African Americans, hell-bent on destroying their city. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The reporting was somewhat inaccurate and propagandistic when references were made to rioting and violence. Neither the protesters nor the citizens of Baltimore participated in a riot or violence and destruction of property.

The references to Baltimore in comparison to the 60’s riots in Baltimore and Los Angeles did a disservice to Baltimore. The events in Baltimore involving the teens were allowed to continue by the police force. Once the Monday afternoon and night activities were over, nothing resembling a riot was evidenced. The majority of the citizens of Baltimore made a concerted effort to show support and love for their city while many in the media cautioned eminent danger and destruction from the protesters. What seemed apparent from the various media reports was an expectation of lawlessness and violence from the African American community. The African American community of Baltimore and the law enforcement element were seeing the same activity, but from two different perspectives.

For some observers, the large show of force to prevent rioting and destruction was really not necessary. The point is that a riot never took place. Certainly, on Monday afternoon and night acts of lawlessness and destruction of property did take place, but for all intent and purpose, that was the end of any threat of mass civil disobedience and mayhem. What the focus on the possibility of civil unrest had on the situation was to shift the attention away from the legitimate protest relative to the death of Freddie Gray and the request and need for transparency. The need of the media to anticipate some breaking news development seems to triumph to tragedy of Gray’s death while in police custody.

One thing that seems to be apparent from the comments of the media as well as other sources is the negative stereotypical view that is presently held concerning African American people. From the engagement of the National Guard and the numerous law enforcement agencies, one might get the impression that all hell will break out at any given time. Many of the citizens have tried to counter that perception by placing themselves in the street and speaking directly to their neighbor about the collective desire for a safe and peaceful city. At the same time, these citizens want to see some positive changes in the way their lives have been affected from a legal, economic, educational, and political standpoint.

The protest then is not just a reaction to the death of Freddie Gray, but a reaction to the years of neglect and lack of attention paid to the needs of the citizens, especially those of color and of low social-economical status. Unfortunately, the death of Gray provided an opportunity for the citizens to raise their voices and be heard. When viewing the videos of the various protests around the country, we realize that the problems involve more than African Americans, but all Americans. The need for justice on all fronts is apparent by the number of protests around the country and the diverse make-up of the protesters.

Our Constitution gives us as citizens the right to protest peacefully. The word peaceful goes both ways, in that the law enforcers should not interfere with peaceful protesters, but must protect their right to do so. Sometime it seems that the law enforcers resent protesters from exercising their rights. When effective and constructive communications can exist between the citizens and the law enforcers they employ then the threat of riots, violence, civil unrest, and destruction of property will not be a factor to consider.

Many problems exist in many of America’s cities that are not easily seen or known to the general public; they are none-the-less real problems and need addressing. Too often, the occasion of incidents like the death of Freddie Gray brings to the surface the problems of unemployment, decent housing, satisfactory education, adequate health care, and social justice. All of the problems are important to the well-being of any community large or small, so they must be made apparent so they can be addressed. The protests in Baltimore and across the nation are not just about the death of Freddie Gray, but for the lives of the people still here who cry out for positive change—now


Oprah Winfrey experiences discrimination in Switzerland boutique

August 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Posted in African American, blacks, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, Media and Race, Prejudice, tourism, whites | 2 Comments
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Oprah Winfrey recently reported that she experienced discrimination while shopping for a purse in Switzerland. The event occurred according to Winfrey when “a clerk at Trois Pommes, a pricey Zurich boutique, refused to show her a $38,000 handbag, telling one of the world’s richest women that she wouldn’t be able to afford it.” Apparently, the clerk did not recognize Winfrey or she would not have refused to show her the purse. The more important question relative to this experience is why was Winfrey’s request to see the purse rejected. Winfrey called the incident an act of racism, but there is more to this incident than meets the eye.
In the aftermath of the incident, we are told that “Swiss tourism officials and the boutique owner were quick to offer apologies Friday. ‘We are very sorry for what happened to her, of course, because we think all of our guest and clients should be treated respectfully, in a professional way,’” The boutique owner, Trudie Goetz, tried to make excuses for the clerk by claiming that because the clerk is mainly an Italian speaker she lacked the proper communication skills and “I believe she [the clerk] rather said something like ‘we have some less expensive—we also have some less expensive bags’ and not ‘it’s too expensive for you.’”
Of course, Goetz’s offering in defense of her clerk makes little sense because how would the clerk know what is and what is not in a customer’s price range? Also, why would she assume that Winfrey could not afford the purse simply by looking at her? The fact is that she could not know whether Winfrey could afford the purse, but assumed simply by looking at her that she could not afford it. Why? Stereotypes. African Americans as well as other people of color are generally the recipients of negative stereotypes. Why? The negative stereotypes are the product of American and Western propaganda that presents and portrays African Americans as not worthy of significant social value or respect.
For many years the images of the African American sent out of America showed him to be poor, ignorant, literate, simple, lazy, dishonest, a lier, a thief, a clown, and generally lacking morals or decency along with a host of other negative stereotypes. Few if any of the pictures of African Americans were complimentary. So, naturally people of color from other countries did not want to be viewed in that negative light; therefore, in spite of all the positive contributions African Americans have made to America and the world, being an American of color was not viewed positively. Today, when people of color come to America, they deliberately retain their cultural and geographical identity for fear of being mistaken as an African American because of the stereotypes. If Winfrey had gotten someone to announce her arrival at the boutique, she would have received VIP treatment because wealthy African Americans who travel outside the U.S.A. are generally well-received if their presence is made known. The average African American, however, falls into the category composed of negative stereotypes.
To be sure, the image of the European American is equally composed of stereotypes, but they are generally the opposite from those of the African Americans. The images in question come from movies, news stories, magazines and books. For years, many people in foreign countries thought that European Americans did not work, but simply went shopping, golfing, or to the beach every day, always having fun and enjoying life. When images of African Americans were presented, the context was usually in a 2nd-class role or some other negative stereotype, usually involving protest or violence crimes. Rarely was an African American pictured as wealthy, educated, and non-threatening.
So, once we understand the history of the African American experience relative to the negative stereotyped images of them outside of America, we can begin to understand that the discrimination Winfrey experienced was not necessarily based on her personally, but on the image held by the clerk relative to people of color or African Americans in general. We know for certain that Winfrey experienced discrimination, but we cannot say that it was based on ethnicity or race. People can be discriminated against for a plethora of reasons, so race does not have to be the primary or only reason. Many people in America are profiled and discriminated against every day, not simply because of their skin color, but also because they are assumed to be in a particular socio-economic class.
Whether in America or some other country, stereotypes of people exists and those stereotypes serve as the bases for discrimination. Winfrey’s experience should serve as a lesson for business owners that serve the public—never judge a book by its cover, or a customer on how he or she looks. What was the worst thing that could have happened had the clerk showed Winfrey the purse? No sale. The best thing would have been a large commission for a sale. No individual is guilty of racism because racism is a group identity; bigotry is the choice of the individual. To say the clerk was guilty of racism would indict a so-called race of people of which he or she is only a representative; however, to refer to him or her as a bigot places the responsibility for discrimination squarely on his or her shoulders. That being said does not excuse or forgive what Winfrey experienced.
For certain Switzerland’s tourism officials and the boutique owner offered apologies for Winfrey’s treatment, but Winfrey, on the other hand, might be correct is her assessment of her experience as racist, because the first paragraph of the Associate Press story (8-10-13)provides this food for thought: “Switzerland is a glamorous playground of the rich and famous, filled with glitterati from princes to movie stars. It’s a land with a sometimes uneasy relationship with foreigners—especially when they aren’t white.” For people of color knowing that piece of information before making the trip could be helpful. After all, for one to be fore-warned also means to be fore-armed.

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