Paul R. Lehman,The phrases: “black people” and “white people” contribute to the system of ethnic bigotry

March 3, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Indian, American Racism, Bible, Bill Nye Undeniable, black inferiority, blacks, democracy, discrimination, DNA, Dorothy Roberts, entitlements, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, freedom of speech, Human Genome, identity, justice, minority, PBS NEWSHOUR, Prejudice, President Obama, race, Race in America, racism, skin color, skin complexion, U. S. Census, University of Penn., white supremacy, whites | 2 Comments
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So, what is wrong with saying “black people” and “white people” as part of our daily language usage? The answer does not include a right or wrong response, but one of understanding the significance of those phrases. Both phrases make references to the concept of race by color which is a social invention, not a biological fact. The phrase “black people” is not the same as “African American people” nor is “white people” the same as “European American people”; they are not interchangeable. However, with each use of these phrases the system of European American (white) supremacy and African American (black) inferiority is maintained, supported and promoted. When people of note use those phrases, their usage gives the impression that the phrases are acceptable in our general speech.

We need to understand and acknowledge a fact of life:  races of black people and white people do not exist on the planet. According to noted scientist Bill Nye, “Any differences we traditionally associate with race are a product of our need for vitamin D and our relationship to the Sun. Just a few clusters of genes control skin color; …and they are tiny compared to the total human genome.”He continued by noting that “We all descended from the same African ancestors, with little genetic separation from each other. The different colors or tones of skin are the result of an evolutionary response to ultraviolet light in local environments.”(Undeniable, p. 254-55)

Americans have been conditioned to view themselves and others as different through the spectrum of color when information to the contrary has always been present. Scientist, Neil de Grasse Tyson, was once asked the question “what are human beings”? He answered that we are all made of stardust. Before we take that response as a joke, remember what the Bible and other sacred books said of human creation: mankind was created from the dirt and clay. This information agrees with Neil de Grasse Tyson in principle but is emphatic in the Book of Common Prayer in the statement:”Ashes to ashes dust to dust” usually associated with the burial of humans. In any event, the skin color of a human being does not give favor or preferences to any shade or tone because as Nye stated: “Everybody has brown skin tinted by the pigment melanin. Some people have light brown skin. Some people have dark brown skin. But we all are brown, brown, brown. (Nye, p.255)

Because the system of ethnic bigotry is based on skin color, each reference to skin color reinforces the concept of European American (white) supremacy. However, the reference to black people and white people as racial identities have created problems for many years and can no longer be controlled. In an interview with two scientists discussing the issue of race in their works, Sarah Tishkoff noted that “We know people don’t group according to so-called races based purely on genetic data. Whenever the topic comes up, we have to address, how are we going to define race? I have never ever seen anybody come to a consensus at any of these human genetic meetings.”

A response was given by Dorothy Roberts: “That’s because race is based on cultural, legal, social and political determinations, and those groupings have changed over time. As a social scientist, looking at biologists treating these groupings as if they were determined by innate genetic distinctions, I’m dumbfounded. There’s so much evidence that they’re invented categories. How you can say this is a biological race is just absurd. It’s absurd. It violates the scientific evidence about human beings.” (

So, confusion continues with the constant use of identities based on skin color in medical research as well as all other social areas.

Since we know that biological races are a false social concept, our continued usage of terms that underscore it’s existence only serve to maintain and promote ethnic separation and bigotry. The fact that the term “racism” continues to be used indicates a number of concerns; one, some people using the term are innocent or ignorant of its direct relationship to maintaining the system of ethnic bigotry; two, some people using the term are stupid and are simply following the conventions of a bigoted society; three, some people using the term are simply bigots and are well aware of its support of the system of ethnic supremacy and want to promote it; some people using the term know its social significance relative to the system, but are seemingly not fully informed or are not concerned with its impact on society.

While the phrases “black people” and “white people” are the primary focus of this text, other phrases serve nearly the same function of maintaining and promoting the system of bigotry. For example, people who identify themselves as bi-racial or mixed race actually lend support to the system of ethnic bigotry because by using those phrases they are underscoring their acceptance of the false concept of racial superiority of so-called white people. Much of the problem comes from the language used by the inventors of the system with American society not being aware of the system, just its effects. A system of bigotry cannot be replaced if knowledge of its presence is not known. Through the language, the effects of the system of bigotry could be very apparent while the system itself can go undetected, which is largely the case in America today.

The need for awareness of language was the focus and objective of House Resolution 4238, which amended two federal acts dealing with insensitive and/or outdated language. For decades the term “minorities” used in federal language referred to people of color: Negro, Puerto Rican, American Indian, Eskimo, Oriental, etc.”President Obama signed the new bill that changed the language to “Asian American, Native Hawaiian, a Pacific Islander, African American, Hispanic, Puerto, Native American, or an Alaska Native.”(Obama signs bill eliminating ‘Negro,’ ‘Oriental’ from federal laws, PBS NEWSHOUR, 5/22/2016) Rather than being lumped into a group called “minorities” each ethnic group now has the opportunity to use it own ancestral or cultural identity which reflects personal self-worth and social value.

When phrases like “black people” and “white people” are used, they lack specificity because no one group of people on the planet represents either a black or white race. Their use only adds to the support of the system of bigotry. Confusion exists when those phrases are used because the reference is unclear relative to a skin color or a vague concept of a culture. So, if we are serious about replacing the system of bigotry, we can begin by using the appropriate language. Truth to the word!


Paul R. Lehman, President Obama signed a bill eliminating the word Negro that signals change in identities

August 15, 2016 at 11:24 pm | Posted in African American, American history, American Indian, American Racism, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, discrimination, DNA, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, Hispanic whites, identity, immigration, law, minority, Non-Hispanic white, President Obama, public education, Race in America, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery, U. S. Census, U.S. Supreme Court, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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When Africans were brought to this country and enslaved, one of the first things taken from them was their identity. Taking away their identity was important because it represented the history of who they were and that they were valued. Although each enslaved African would be given a slave name, they would all be commonly called black or negro because of their skin color. The African identity was taken away from the enslaved, but the slave sellers and owners knew who they were, what they did (farmer, fisherman, craftsman, etc…) and where they were from because their selling price would be influenced by that information.

An example of the value of the African’s identity was underscored in a 1764 poem by James Grainger, “The Sugar Cane.” This poem was constructed using four parts called books; the fourth book, “On the Genius of Africa,” shows the value of a slaver knowing the identity of the African captives: “Negroes when bought should be young and strong. The Congo-Negroes are fitter for the house and trades, than for the field. The Gold-Coast, but especially the Papaw-Negroes, make the best field-Negroes: but even these, if advanced in years, should not be purchased.” This information focuses on males, for females the advice is when looking for a sound Negro: “Where the men do nothing but hunt, fish or fight, all the field drudgery is left to the women: these are to be preferred to their husbands.” The reference continues for males: “The Minnahs make good tradesmen, but addicted to suicide. The Mundingoes, in particular, subject to worms; and the Congas, to dropsical disorders.”(The Making of the Negro in Early American Literature, Paul R. Lehman, 2nd edition, Fountainhead Press, 2006, P. 38)

For enslaved Africans in America, their identity was taken away so their history and value would be tied to American slavery. If the only identity an enslaved person had was that of being American black or Negro (both terms mean the same) then they did not exist except in the system of slavery. The only personal identity they had linked them to their owner, as in the reference—John Smith’s Negro, “Tom.” During the early 1700’s,the term for slave went from Negro and black to simply “slave” due to the common coupling of the two phrase “black slave” or “Negro slave.” However, many of the enslaved were still Europeans and American Indians, but the majority of the enslaved was African/ African American.

Once the government instituted the system of white supremacy and black inferiority, race by color became an important part of personal identity in American society. Americans were no longer able to identity with a particular ethnic or culture group. Kamala Kelkar, (PBS NEWSHOUR, 5/22/2016), noted that “In 1790, the U.S. Census counted people by lumping them into one of three categories—slaves, free white females and males, or all other free persons.”The most important identity an American could have or want to have was white. The most damning identity one could have was that of either slave or Negro.

Immigration to American from around the world, but especially Eastern and Southern Europe brought many changes to the invented concept of race. Although most European immigrants were not referred to as white, they all were willing to give-up their cultural identity to be called white. For people of color, the term Negro was used regardless of their place of birth outside of the U.S. As recently as 2010, the Census form still included the term Negro or black, but the list for other people of color had expanded. Kelkar explained that “The Department of Energy Act has for decades described “minorities” as, “Negro, Puerto Rican, American Indian, Eskimo, Oriental, or Aleut or as a Spanish-speaking individual of Spanish descent.”Because of the system of white supremacy and black inferiority, people of color were identified as “minorities.”

For over two-hundred years the words race and ethnicity were generally undefined and used indiscriminately to the confusion of all, especially the U.S. Census. As recent as 2010, Americans in a number of categories were told on the Census form to identify themselves as white, if they could not find an identity that suited them. This group included mixed-ethnic individuals such as Asian Americans, American Indians, and Hispanics. In effect, the concept of race by color had reached a point of meaninglessness. The problem was that the terms race was interpreted as pertaining to multiple biological groups of human beings or ethnic groups. The fact is that only one race of human beings exists—Homo sapiens. Ethnicity or ethnic groups pertains to the variety of cultural groups within the human race.

Every human being on the planet Earth has two identities—one ancestral or ethnic, one cultural. The ancestral or ethnic identity is represented by a person’s biological parents; the cultural is the identity the individual selects. For example, an Asian American has Asian as an ancestral identity, and American as the cultural which he or she embraces. The terms Negro and black do not allow for either identity nor does the terms white and Caucasian.  Fortunately, things are about to change.

President Barack Obama just recently signed H.R. 4238 “which amends two federal acts from the 70’s that define “minorities” with terms that are now insensitive or outdated.” In addition, the bill was sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng, D-NY, with 74 Democratic co-sponsors and two Republican ones;” it passed with 380 votes. The two words removed from the books are Negro and Oriental. According to Kelkar “The new bill changes the language to, ‘Asian American, Native Hawaiian, a Pacific Islander, African American, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Native American or Alaska Native.’”

The changes in identity were inevitable because race by color was an invention based on false assumptions and beliefs. Black or Negro and white or Caucasian were never biological categories of the human race but were put in place because of the government’s control. No one ever came to America with only the identity of black, Negro, or Caucasian or white; they always had an ancestral and cultural identity. Once in America, however, the Europeans recognized the value of being identified as white and so the abandoned their ancestral and cultural identity for white. People of color coming to America realized the stigma associated with being call Negro or black and usually decided to retain their ancestral and cultural identity. Now the people of color who were previously called Negro can be specific in their ancestral and cultural identity—African American. For whites and Caucasians, no official changes have been made although the term European Americans was used on occasion by the Supreme Court, but they always had the freedom to identify themselves using their ancestral identity such as Irish, Italian, Polish, German, etc. In any event, the fact is that identity-based on race by color is rapidly being deconstructed.

Paul R. Lehman, Changing Mark Twain’s n-word to slave is a no no

January 10, 2011 at 12:53 am | Posted in Ethnicity in America, Media and Race, Race in America | 4 Comments
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The Associated Press recently published an article reporting that Alan Gribben, a Twain scholar, published a volume containing two novels, Huck Finn  and Tom Sawyer. In this new volume Gribben replaced the n- word with “slave” and “injun” with Indian. One finds it interesting that Gribben would want to change a few key words in the texts of two of Mark Twain’s more popular novels to try and avoid embarrassment from some readers. To make such a change, in this case of the n-word and the word injun, would do irreparable harm to the works, which are viewed as classics, on a number of levels. Any work of fiction worth its salt should allow interpretations on a number of levels. Three common avenues of approach to analyzing a work of fiction, a novel such as Huckleberry Finn, for example, would be from outside the novel, inside the novel, and on the major characters. In each case, changing the n- word to slave would negatively affect the novel on all three levels.

For us to be on the safe side in this discussion, let us briefly review the significance of the n- word from an historical basis. When African captives were brought to America, the slave traders wanted to remove every ounce of self-value and self-worth from them changed their names from what they were, names reflecting a cultural identify, to that of one that had no value except in the slave culture; and that value was based in economics. The words black, negro, and slave were employed as references to the Africans, although early in America’s history slaves consisted of Indians, European Americans, and Africans. After time and through a series of social and economic changes (see my book The making of the Negro in Early American Literature) all Africans, whether slave or free, were called negroes. The term is from Latin and means black. The n- word carries with it the symbolic meaning of worthlessness or lacking positive value. The word slave does not contain the same sense of value or ethnicity. So these words cannot be used interchangeable with the same effect. Let us see how changing the n- word to slave affects Twain’s novel of Huck Finn.

If we were to analyze this novel from the outside, we would look at what the novel represents as a work, that is, a commentary on America. This commentary would examine various aspects of the society which would include among other things class, ethnic, political, social relationships, violence, and slavery. If the n- word were changed for slave, the reader at this level would be deprived of the basic prejudice of American society for the African/African American. We know from history that for many people in the South slavery was accepted as a way of life. Little thought was given to it being good or bad, just some questions of whether it should be acceptable or unacceptable in a legal and/or moral sense. The issue of slavery specifically with respect to the African/African Americans would be distorted if slave was substituted for the n-word. At this level of analysis all the characters in the novel are symbolic representations of some element of society, so if the n-word was removed from the character Jim, the symbolism would be meaningless. What must be remembered is that laws restricting the lives of African/African Americans were commonplace during the time and setting of this novel, and slavery was a way of life. The novel using this approach to analysis can be seen as representing America.

Additionally, if we were to analyze the novel from the inside, we would take into consideration all the elements of fiction: characters, setting, plot, theme and point of view. What we discover in reading the novel from this perspective is a world created by the writer, Twain that features fictional elements that help tell the story. Again, the setting would give us the time period and place along with the behavior and attitudes of the various characters. Novels viewed at this level can be characterized by the reader seen as the author’s intent to instruct, inform and/or entertain. If, for example, the reader believes that the intent was to entertain, then the focus might be on the humor in the novel. However, if the n-word was removed in general and from Jim specifically, the social and historical value of the word would be lost. Also lost would be a theme of the novel, possibly a young Southern boy coming of age, and the very serious personal challenges he encounters. The simple change of the n-word to slave would present a water-downed view of the social controversy existing at this time and lend itself more to the entertainment rather than informative value of the novel.

Subsequently, viewing the novel at the level of character requires the author to provide all the information the reader needs to carefully access the characters. By taking away the n-word from Jim’s character, Gribben would deprive him and Huck of the most important part of their challenge. For Huck slavery is a part of everyday life as well as positing little or no value in an African/African American. Two things of immense importance impact Huck’s life that deals with the concepts of right and wrong, or the secular law, and the concept of good and bad, or the moral law of the Bible. The conflict for Huck revolves around the fact that what his society says is right, his reason says is wrong, and what the Bible says is wrong, Huck reasons as right. The concerns of slavery and human rights do not exist in a non-descript term as slave because it is not personalized. Twain knew this and overcame it by using the n-word as part of Jim’s identity.

Regarding the changing of the word injun to Indian, the difference has to do with the spelling and pronunciation of a term associate with American Indians. The use of the adulterated spelling shows a lack of respect for the people by the society. Huck’s use of it simply reflects his society’s practice.With respect to the word slave, the word makes no reference to a people with a history, past and present. Americans have been so indoctrinated with the word slave and it association with the African/African Americans that the mere mention of the word slave will conjure up the image of African/ African Americans, even if the references is from the Bible. The same experience does not exist with the word injun.

Finally, if we were to ask what Mark Twain would have to say about such an act of changing his words, the answer is obvious—he would forbid it. For some assurance we might turn to a recent publication entitled Mark Twain: The Divided Mind of America’s Best Loved Writer, by David W. Levy. Levy writes that “He had a knack for striking precisely the right tone—whether in lyrical descriptions of nature, suspenseful fiction, raucous comedy, or vitriolic polemic. He knew exactly the right word and was not shy about inventing a new one if he has to; he fearlessly transformed adjectives into adverbs and nouns into verbs.”

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