Tags: African Americans, black, current-events, Eric Garner, European Americans, Extreme force, fairness, Hispanics, justice, law enforcement, Luis Rodrigues, Luis Rodriguez, NYPD, Oklahoma, People of color, police actions, police custody, police relationships, white
Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, an African American man, was put in a chokehold, a procedure against NYPD policy, for allegedly selling single cigarettes. He was physically subdued and taken into police custody (July 2014).
Luis Rodriguez of Moore, Oklahoma, a Hispanic American, was physically detained for questioning by the police outside a local theatre relative to a domestic matter involving only his wife and daughter. He was physically subdued and taken into police custody (Feb.2014).
Often times when African Americans or Hispanic Americans complain about the unjust treatment of the police in relations to them, some Americans think that those claims are far-fetched. Usually, those not thinking the claims are unjust and false are European Americans whose relationship with the police is different—non violent and generally positive. The recent incident of New York Police’s actions involving an unharmed, African American man, Eric Garner, created a variety of questions about the police, their training relative to people of color, and society.
Because of past experiences involving the police (not just in New York) and people of color, we know the importance of eye-witness and video accounts of these incidents. One fact is certain involving the police actions is that without creditable eye-witness and video accounts of an incident, the police’s word is accepted above and beyond what any citizen has to say. Even with eye-witness and video accounts, most cases where police extreme force is alleged and death or injury to a citizen occurs, the police actions is usually found to be justified. Evidently, the only actions evaluated during these types of incidents are those of the policemen; the citizens are usually presumed to be at fault. Why is it the case that police use more force in encountering people of color?
The recent case of extreme force in New York involving an African American man shares a number of similar things with a recent case in the Oklahoma City area involving Luis Rodriguez, a Hispanic man. In both cases, numerous policemen were involved in the physical altercation. The first thing these two cases have in common involves the apparent haste by the police to physically subdue them. What seems out of reasonable thought is the lack of patience by the police to converse with the citizen when little or not threat of harm is imminent. Common decency would suggest that the police would want to get information relative the situation before initiating any physical action. That was not the case in the two incidents in question. Rather than trying to become informed about the situation, the police, as the videos show, simply order the men to submit to being arrested and placed in handcuffs without any stated cause for their actions.
In both cases, when the men try to speak to the police in an effort to understand the police orders to be handcuffed, the police apparently interpreted their actions as refusing to obey a command and begin immediately to physically subdue them. Why? Are the police taught during their training that physical restraints are necessary for all subjects regardless of what their offense might be? Why do the police not take more time to discern the situation before resorting to physical action against a subject? Is there a time limit involved in making an arrest? The actions of the police appear to be a rush-to-judgment rather than the use of rational judgment as in these two cases.
In addition, the lack of patience and communications demonstrated by the police in these two cases, the use of physical force as seen on the videos is appalling. We must keep in mind that the two victims did not have weapons nor were they attacking the police—they were trying to get information as to why they were being arrested. However, as soon as the order was given by the police, if the victim did not act immediately in compliance with that order, he was physically restrained. What seemed appalling during the physical restraint by the police was the lack of resistance from the victim. One notices that not two or three policemen are involved in the restraining but usually four or more. The actions of the police involved in the restraining resembled something like a scene from a National Geographic video where some lionesses have just made a kill, and the rest of the pride comes in to take part in the feast.
What was generally missing from the total incident was the rationale for treating the victim like a wild animal, rather than a human being. Once the victims are on the ground and under control why press their heads into the concrete; they have been subdued, and not fighting, why keep applying unnecessary pressure and pain? What seemed out of place to most objective viewers of these incidents were the inhuman and unjust actions of the police. Where does the mantra of to “Serve and Protect” enter the minds of the police? All the police seem to be in agreement when subduing a subject and applying unnecessary force, because not a single one finds the action not in keeping with proper conduct or try to prevent or discourage the others from their action. The actions of these officers are more a disservice to the police force than a service in that the impression one takes away from viewing these videos is one of callous disregards for the feelings of a human being.
In each incident, the victims told the police that they could not breathe. In each case, the words, and pleas of the victims were disregarded. Once they stopped breathing, no immediate medical assistance was offered. Both victims died. The irony of their deaths is that neither of these men had committed a crime that warranted arrest; at worse, had they been treated with respect and dignity as a human being, they probably would have been given a citation. In effect, the only crime, if we can call it a crime, these men are guilty of is not responding immediately to the policeman’s order to submit to being arrested.
The cases of Garner and Rodriguez, two men of color follow a long list of other victims of unjust and unfair treatment by some members of police forces across the country. Why is it that a herd mentality seems to take over when some police confront people of color? We suggest that in addition to honoring the mantra “To Serve and Protect” that police receive training in recognizing the challenges involved with treating human beings with respect and dignity regardless of how they look. The officers should be trained to think of themselves as being in the subject’s place. The phrases “We are Family,” and “Patience is a virtue, “if considered by police, would go a long way in helping police do a better job in closing the gap in their relationship with people of color.
Tags: Affirmative Action, African Americans, American Education, black, college admission, current-events, European Americans, Mismatch, Oklahoma, President Lyndon B. Johnson, public schools, race, State Quesion 759, Stuart Taylor and Richard Sander, The Oklahoman, white
The “Opinion” writer for The Oklahoman has again brought up the topic of State Question 759 which to ban Affirmative Action in state government. This time, however, his comments are misguided and illogical. The title of the article is “Merit must trump race in state government,” shows just how confusing his thoughts are on Affirmative Action. Until Affirmative Action was put in place, race was always used to keep African Americans and women out of state government. Before Affirmative Action, merit was not even a consideration for office in state government. However, since opponents of the state question have voiced their opposition to it, those for its banning are offering their views.
One of the primary problems involved with banning Affirmative Action is the lack of understanding about what it concerns. Many of the opponents of Affirmative Action focus simply of college and/or university admission programs that supposedly favor African Americans applicants over European American applicants. Therefore, since these programs single out race as the criteria for acceptance, the programs must be discarded. What is missing from this action is the reason for Affirmative Action in the first place. Nowhere in this legislation are mentioned the words African Americans, blacks, Negroes, Colored or any other noun describing or identifying an ethnic group. But, because of the efforts of African Americans and other Americans citizens, the measure sought to make unconstitutional discrimination of people for reasons of race, color, sex, creed, or national origin.
If we were to stop and look at the record of American society in the areas of school admissions for women and other ethnic Americans prior to Affirmative Action, we would see a marked change for the betterment of those applicants. Also, if we checked the record for women and ethnic Americans in fields and professions like, firefighters, law enforcement, postal workers, medicine, law, and construction, we would hopefully understand just what Affirmative Action has done and continues to do for society.
However, since the “Opinion” writer focused on African Americans specifically, let us look at what President Lyndon B. Johnson said about this measure he signed: “Nothing is more freighted with meaning for our won destiny than the revolution of the Negro American…[we were called Negroes then]. In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope…But freedom is not enough.” He explains what he means by that last statement: “You do not wipe away the cards of centuries by saying; Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair….”
The article states that “Affirmative action’s harsh reality is to harm those it is supposed to benefit. In their book, ‘Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students Its Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit it,’ authors Stuart Taylor and Richard Sander outline affirmative actions destructive consequences.” Indeed, the authors document cases where institutions admitted students who were not academically prepared for the rigors they faced. Although the focus was on African Americans, this situation applies to students of all ethnic groups. The problems in Affirmative Action are the results of institutions attempting to put it in force. Contrary to the “Opinion” writer’s support of banning the program, the authors made recommendations to make the program more effective.
Unlike President Johnson’s comment about unfairly expecting people having been deprived of freedoms to go right into competition with others who have had more experiences and opportunities, some Americans expect African American students to do just that—compete in an unfair arena. They think to do otherwise is to discriminate against the European Americans. To be sure, the problems created by institutions attempting to impliment Affirmative Action are real and serious, but not unsolvable. What seems strange regarding Affirmative Action is the fact that it was created to address the years of discrimination and unfair, unjust, and unequal treatment of African Americans in general, but women and other ethnic Americans as well, but when the program is implemented, arguments by European Americans charging discrimination are brought to the fore. Evidently, some people believe the problems of the past can be addressed by not disrupting a thing in the present. Go figure.
Regardless of the many problems associated with institutions implementing Affirmative Action programs, the fact that doors of opportunity have been opened to African Americans, women, and other ethnic Americans is a positive change for society. The idea that merit alone should be the key to admission leaves much to be addressed. Since we know that many African Americans represent the lowest level on the economic and unemployment ladder, we also know that the level of education received by African Americans living at that level will also be influenced. So, why would the expectations for students coming from underserved institutions be placed at the same level with those coming from middle-class and affluent communities? Who decides what merit is? How is merit acquired? Where is merit acquired? Who decides who get merit? What good is merit if having it does not address the primary problem of diversity? As the title of the “Opinion” suggests, “that merit must trump race,” what’s to prevent the status quo from remaining the status quo if only the same people qualify for merit?
Yes, we agree that implementing Affirmative Action has and will continue to create challenges for society, but we also know that going forward allowing more Americans to participate in and contribute to society is better than going backwards. Banning Affirmative Action as State Question 759 wants to do is a step backwards. We need to stop looking at this program thinking it applies to educational institutions, but consider its over-all contribution to society.
Tags: African Americans, Artur Davis, black, cnn interview, color bind, Conservatives, current-events, Democrats, European Americans, J. C. Watts, mitt romney, Oklahoma, politics, Prejudice, President Obama, race, racial unity, Republican Party, Stacey Dash, T.W. Shannon, The Oklahoman, Ward Connerly
Some confusion exists in the minds of some people who try to explain the reasons why some African Americans are Republicans. One Opinion writer for The Oklahoman believes they are attacked because they do not reflect “racial unity.” In the article, “Color Bind: Racial unity pledge coming up short,” he states that President Obama “implied that his election would usher in a post-racial era. This hasn’t been the case.” Whether President Obama implied it or not, he has no control of the mind-set of the entire country. The article noted “Consider how black citizens who support Republican Mitt Romney are treated. After actress Stacey Dash tweeted her endorsement of Romney, she was inundated with racist attacks.” The article further noted that “In a CNN interview Dash said she chose Romney ‘not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.’” According to the article, Dash is joined in her support of Romney by other African Americans, former U. S. Rep. Artur Davis, Ward Connerly, J.C. Watts, and T.W. Shannon. The point missed by the “Opinion writer” is that the color of the candidate has nothing to do with the complaints made against these people –it is their choice of party—republican.
For an African American to join and support the Republican Party today, he or she must have little or limited knowledge of the party’s history since the early 1950’s. Knowledge of the Republican Party beginning with the 1950’s will reveal a story that shows just how unaccommodating the party has been to African Americans. Once known as the party of Lincoln, the Republicans changed their views towards African Americans during and following Reconstruction. The belief among European Americans in general, but especially in the South, was that the government would never make any ethnic group equal to them. When the public schools were desegregated many Southern democrats started to change their political party to republican. Many European Americans in the Republican Party believed that the African American was to be always a second-class citizen. So, armed with that information, one wonders why an African American knowing the history of the party would join it.
For an African American to join and support the Republican Party, he or she must not have any knowledge of the civil rights struggle waged by the African Americans to gain basic rights. They need to know that the Republican did not support any form of civil rights legislation that included the court decisions from Brown v Topeka to the fair housing act or even the Lily Ledbetter Act. At every juncture where African Americans have tried to gain first-class citizenship, the Republican Party has been against it. So, again, one wonders why an African American would want to support a party with such a record. This party has never been afraid to show its biases. All one has to do is look at the many instances where some of its representatives have tried to denigrate President Obama, not because of his party affiliations, but because of his ethnicity.
What should be apparent to many Americans today is the battle being waged in society and politics has to do with human rights, everything from Affirmative Action to voting rights, and workers’ rights. When we check to see who is behind the efforts to deny American rights, we learn that much of it come from representatives of the Republican Party. They believe that when ethnic Americans gain rights, they lose something, so they fight anyway the can for the status quo.
Again, why would an African American want to be associated with a party that wants to deny him or her basic rights? The article made the following suggestion: “The caucus [African American] tacitly acknowledges that black officials enjoy greater opportunity in the Republican Party. This has been the case in Oklahoma, where J. C. Watts won a statewide office (corporation commissioner) and a U.S. House seat.” The article also noted that “State Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, is expected to become the first black speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives next month. Both have won the support of voters who don’t share Shannon racial background but do share his conservative values.”
Yes, and that, of course, is part of the reason for African Americans being in the Republican Party—the recognition and opportunity to progress as individuals. Notice that the emphasis on African American republicans is on the individual, not the people. In effect, some African Americans join the Republican Party knowing they will be exploited, but also knowing they too can exploit the party. Many of the visual African American republicans can be conceived of as “watch pocket” republicans because they only come out when the need is there. For a while, J.C. Watts was the hottest ticket in Washington, D.C.; the fourth highest ranking republican. But what degree of power and/or influence did he have? When the word came out that Tom Delay, the third highest ranking republican in the House was thinking about a move up, Watts thought he would simply move up also. Unfortunately, and presumably when Delay heard of Watts’s possible plan, he changed his mind about moving up, and remained in his position. . Being very visual but having no power evidently did not sit well with Watts; he did not run for re-election.
Republicans enjoy having “watch pocket” African Americans in the party because any time there is a charge of bigotry or ethnic bias, they can go to their pocket and pull one out to show that any accusations of bigotry or biases is completely false. They can pull one out to show and tell “they have one!” Many Americans, African Americans included pause to take note of African Americans who join and support the Republican Party because they know that anyone with common knowledge about the history of today’s Republican Party, and its relationship to the civil rights movement would reflect better judgment in their choice. That is, unless there is a payoff for them.
The “Opinion writer” thinks that African American republicans are being criticized for not supporting Obama and “Racial unity,” because of their obvious ethnicity. However, the real reason is because their sense of logic and rational thinking is being questioned. Why would a drowning man ask for a glass of water? To many people, that is exactly what African American republicans resemble.
Tags: African Americans, European Americans, George Earl Johnson, Jr., misconceptions, Oklahoma, race, The Oklahoma Observer, tolerance
In an article published in The Oklahoma Observer last month (11/25/11) entitled “Lesson In Tolerance, Only In America,” by George Earl Johnson Jr. he related two experiences that he viewed as unique to an African American living in America. He also called the experiences lessons in tolerance. On closed examination, we discover that he might have misjudged these experiences.
Johnson writes about two experiences where stereotypical concepts of well-dressed African American men were used with him as the victim. One experience he apparently viewed as negative, the other as positive. The first experience occurred when he was standing the in the lobby of a classy hotel in Washington, D.C. and he is mistaken for a bellman by a European American man. The man approached him with “’Hey boy, get my bags.’ In doing so he stuck out toward me a fist full of hotel baggage claim tickets. Going along with the man, I smiled and said in reply, ‘Yes sir.’”This experience Johnson referred to as a lesson in tolerance because he did not take the opportunity to correct the perception of the man regarding him as a bellman.
The second experience encountered by Jackson involved several young European American Interns in an elevator who mistook Johnson and a colleague as congressmen. This experience was viewed by Johnson as positive, but again, he made no effort to correct the misconception. To allow the Interns to think of him and his associate as congressmen was not a lesson in tolerance; in fact, it was a failed opportunity to correct a false image.
In the first incident where Johnson is approached in the hotel lobby by a European American man and given a claim ticket, Johnson missed an opportunity to correct a stereotypical image of African Americans men. The European American man apparently thought the only reason for a well-dressed African American man to be standing in the lobby of a Four-star hotel was to be employed as a bellman. Therefore, he does not hesitate to go to him and give him the claim ticket and refer to Johnson as a boy: “Hey boy, get my bags.” Johnson could have taken the opportunity to challenge that stereotype and refused to accept the claim ticket while informing the European American that he too was a customer and to look elsewhere for a bellman. Johnson’s by accepting the claim ticket, in effect, supported, encouraged, and promoted the negative stereotypical concept held by the European American that all well-dressed African American men standing in a hotel lobby are bell hops, not customers. This experience was not a lesson in tolerance.
In the second incident, Johnson allows some young European Americans Interns working in the capitol to think of him and his colleague as congressmen. Since Johnson took an elevator generally reserved for congressmen where he met these young interns, the general impression taken for him and his friend was that they are congressmen. Johnson does nothing to dispel this incorrect image. He instead, led these young people to think that if African American men are well-dressed and riding an elevator reserved for congressmen, then they must be congressmen and not ordinary people.
Again, Johnson missed an opportunity to challenge a stereotype by not telling the young European Americans the truth or at least that he was not a congressman. Instead, he contributed to the false concept of well-dressed African American men being congressmen held by the Interns. This experience was not a lesson in tolerance. Johnson seems to think that if the African American was not seen in a negative light that all was well. Unfortunately, whether the concept was positive or negative, if it was incorrect and supports a stereotype, it should be challenged.
For Johnson to call his experiences lessons in tolerance is a mistake, because these experiences did not contain any sense of tolerance. What was tolerated? The stereotypical concepts of African Americans held by the European American were not challenged or changed and consequently, will occur over and over again, thanks to Johnson’s lack of constructive action. What Johnson seemingly calls tolerance can easily be seen as passive acceptance. Had Johnson in the first incident refused the claims from the man who took him to be a bell hop, he would have challenged that man’s stereotypical concept of well-dressed African American men standing in the lobby of a four-star hotel being bell hops. That action could be seen as a lesson in tolerance—allowing the European American to break through his pre-conceived concept to a new and informed one of the African American male.
What was troubling about Johnson’s experiences and his reactions to them was the fact that he never realized that he contributed to the stereotypes held by the various European Americans he encountered during these incidents. He believed that his lack of action should be interpreted as lessons in tolerance when they should be seen for what they were—failed opportunities to correct misconception about well-dressed African American men. A long as African Americans take the path of Johnson by ignoring the opportunity to address a false conception by European Americans, these false conceptions will continued unchecked. Letting the opportunities go unchallenged is not tolerance, it is a form of indifference.
While Johnson’s experiences might appear to be inconsequential on the surface, they in effect, represent a troubling situation in America. For Johnson’s experiences to be considered as lessons in tolerance the European Americans should have walked away from the experience with a different, more accurate and acceptable view of African Americans outside of the stereotype. Tolerance suggests open-mindedness, something Johnson did not display. He actually supported the status quo by choosing non-action over corrective action. By Johnson not taking the opportunity to correct a misconceptions, nobody benefits from the experiences—not Johnson, not the European Americans. Whether in America or on Mars, not correcting a false impression or false concept of one’s self image is a missed opportunity—not a lesson in tolerance.
Tags: Affirmative Action, African Americans, Civil Rights, European Americans, Oklahoma, Sen Judy Eason McIntyre, Sen. Ralph Shortey, State Question 759, Ward Connerly
Some Oklahomans might be surprised to learn that the battle
to ban affirmative action in Oklahoma is alive and well. As a matter of fact,
the effort to ban it comes in the form of State Question 759, and is expected
to be on the 2012 ballot. The reasons for introducing SQ 759 vary with
different individuals and their interpretations of affirmative action.
The Oklahoman (11/6/11)
reported that Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, believes the state question is
to be used “as a ‘push-button issue’ so Republicans can get their base to the
polls.” In essence, she sees it as a tactic to increase voter participation for
Republicans who believe that affirmative action works against them in some way.
If the state question strikes an emotional nerve, then people will come out in
large numbers to express their concerns. McIntyre adds that these Republican
voters will get “nothing out of the deal as it relates to health care,
education and job opportunities. There are people that need it. All you have to
do is look at the social indicators. We are dead last. This will in no way
create help for the poor or working people.”
The sponsor of SQ 759 is Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma, who
believes that “the measure will remove any kind of racial or gender component
to preferences given to people whether they are black or American Indian.”
Shortey says that Oklahoma is generally perceived as a state with racial
biases, “and we don’t need that.” He, evidently, thinks that affirmative action
is unfair because “Contracts and jobs
should be based on qualifications, not race or gender.” Finally, Shortey says
of SQ 759 that “It is a statement to the rest of the world we [Oklahomans] are
becoming more color blind in this state.”
What seems obvious to many Oklahomans is the fact that the
issue of affirmation action can always be reintroduced by some politicians to
try and create an emotional response from other people who have no idea of what
affirmation action is or why it is part of our law in the first place. The only
parts of affirmative action that the opponents seem interested in deal with
what they think is unfair to them, not what is seen as an opportunity for
people who have been deprived of opportunities for hundreds of years. Some
politicians want people to believe that providing opportunities for jobs,
education and health care for minority ethnic Americans and women, who had been
locked out of these systems for several hundred years, is actually depriving the
people who have been enjoying these privileges all along of something.
The people who oppose affirmative action have no sense of
reality, history, or democracy; they have a restricted view of American society
that includes them only receiving liberties, privileges and freedom, and all
this because of their complexion or identity—white and male. Sen. McIntyre is
correct in directing attention to the social indicators for proof that
affirmative action is still an essential element of fairness in our state and
society. The idea that three hundred years of prejudice, segregation and discrimination
that included special treatment for European Americans, can be overcome in less
than fifty years is plainly not dealing with reality. To foster that belief in
view of all the data to the contrary indicates not only a bias, but also an
unwillingness to accept the principles of our democratic society.
The excuse used by Sen. Shortey that getting rid of
affirmative action will make us a “more color blind” state is bogus. What is
presently helping to make us a color blind state? We know for certain that
affirmative action has helped the state provide more opportunities for ethnic
minorities and woman, but what is the state doing independently to promote
color blindness? Shortey is spitting in the wind if he thinks we will accept
his statement without facts to support it. As this writer stated in previous
blogs, being color blind is a medical condition that involves the eyes. For
someone to used color blindness in a social context suggests observing skin
complexions and by extension, ethnicity.
In essence, being color blind in a social context suggests that a person
is not valued based on his or her complexion. That is not and cannot be the
case in Oklahoma or society in general because one has to see color in order to
make the determination of color blindness. One has to see color in order to
make a value assessment.
So, Sen. Shortey’s argument on affirmative action being
banned making the state more color blind is pure hogwash. He is catering to
people who are innocent, ignorant or biased in order to create an emotional
issue, an issue they believe takes something away from them unfairly. What
Shorty does understand is that by banning affirmative action the state would be
free to ignore the opportunities of some of it citizens by simply instituting “qualifications.”
If Sen. Shortey is really serious about making Oklahoma a “more
color blind” state, he can begin by introducing a state question eliminating
color as a form of ethnic identity. If he were to introduce such a state
question, it would insure that the colors black and white could never be use
for special privileges or preferences. By the way, affirmative action never
makes reference to color or ethnicity; its intent is to be inclusive, not
Tags: Ada, African American and American, American Education, Civil Rights, Confronting Myths, ethnicity, European Americans, Mexican Dexter Pruitt, Oklahoma
The lovely little town of Ada, Oklahoma has been enjoying an
atmosphere of ethnic harmony for the past few years. Relations among the
various ethnic populations had progressed to the point that group collaboration
in the interest of beautifying the town resulted in the creation of an Ada
Beautification Committee. All was going well until the chairman of the
committee, Dexter Pruitt, made comments that burst the bubble of cooperation,
good will and unity. What made matters worse was the fact that the group in his
immediate vicinity offered comments of agreement along with laughter that
indicated support for the comments.
The news story on KWTV-9 reported that Pruitt’s comments
included the statement that “…but if we don’t get on top of our town we’ve got
too many n…..s and Mexicans moving in.” The “n” reference was apparently meant
to suggest African Americans; the reference to Mexicans is self-explanitory.
This comment and the subsequent support of the people surrounding Pruitt do
several things simultaneously to help destroy the good-will that had been
created in the committee. The information derived from this experience places a
burden on the town of Ada and its residents.
The language and tone of the comment and the subsequent group
reaction indicated a mindset that dates pre 1954 when segregation,
discrimination, and bigotry were facts of everyday life in many Oklahoma towns,
including Ada. What that mindset indicated was the belief by some European
Americans that America is their country exclusively, and they only permit some
non-European Americans to live near them in towns like Ada. The fact that the
‘N’ word was used showed a lack of education or respect for African Americans and/or
bias and ignorance. Either way, the cover of friendliness, unity and acceptance
regarding ethnic identity was ripped away and in its place a not so beautiful
The idea of ethnic superiority, privilege and power by
European Americans also came to the surface in Pruitt’s comment. The ease and
sense of security that seemed to pervade the atmosphere where the comment was
made suggest a feeling of comfort with ethnic prejudice as long as public
scrutiny is avoided. So, one might ask, is the human relations progress that
all thought they were experiencing simply a delusion? One thing is for certain,
the citizens of Ada are the losers in this incident. The most important thing
Ada has lost relative to this incident is trust. The words and actions of some
people can no longer be received as reliable regarding ethnic relations.
Another result of the Pruitt incident indicated that
ignorance of history and ethnic relations have been ignored in favor of
retaining the privilege of normalcy among the European Americans in the group.
Evidently, no one in the group thought to challenge the use of the ‘n’ words or
the biased reference to Mexicans and “our town.” Should a quota be created to
keep the number of African Americans and Mexicans from “moving in?” The comment
seemingly indicated a level of fear that some thing bad or negative would occur
if something was not done to restrict the growth of the ethnic population.
One of the obvious reactions to Pruitt and party being caught
in the act of this kind of incident is to offer an apology quickly to try and
prevent further fall-out and damage. The apology is usually offered for the
wrong reason. The apology should not be offered for uttering the denigrating
words, or for getting caught uttering those words, but for the biased mind and
thought process that said it was okay to denigrate and disrespect a fellow
citizen purely on the basis of their ethnicity. Although Pruitt uttered the
comment, the reaction of the people surrounding him showed agreement with his
thoughts. They should also offer an apology for being supportive of ignorant
and biased thoughts.
For the town of Ada, some good can come from this incident
if handled correctly. The majority of the citizens of Ada are good,
law-abiding, friendly people who would never endorse the behavior of Pruitt and
party. What is also evident in Ada is a lack of knowledge and understanding by
some citizens regarding human relations. The citizens of Ada must realize that
some of its citizens still hold on to the false belief in a so-called white
race. Although no such thing exists in actuality, through the years that belief
has been cultivated in the minds of many Americans. To lose that sense of
specialness and privilege would be devastating to some people because their
identity is all they belief they have of value and that is why they fight so
vigorously to hold on to it. If real progress in human relations, especially
among non-European Americans, is to be made, then a new understanding and
perspective must be acquired by the citizens of Ada. Arriving at a new
understanding and perspective must come from an informed and receptive
Most of the information about ethnic Americans both European
Americans and non-European Americans acquired through education tends to keep
progress at a standstill. The status quo still views people of various ethnic
identities as members of different races. The concept of many races was
debunked worldwide as early as the 1940s. Yet, many Americans want to hold on
to that false belief because it forms the basis for discrimination –viewing
one so-called race superior over another. This information is no longer valid
and accurate, so promoting it would be a disservice to not only the citizens,
but also the youth. Excuses for a slip of the tongue relative to bigotry and
prejudice can no longer be tolerated because a slip simple means that only a
small measure of the real bias was exposed; the majority of the bigotry is
still inside. The real challenge then is to root out the bigotry inside.
Education is the tool made specifically for such a job, for while it might not
eliminate the bigotry, it will remove the excuse of ignorance.
Tags: African Americans, black and white, Capito; Hill, Civil Rights, Clara Luper, Henryetta, Langston University, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Thurgood Marshall
Oklahoma, the nation and indeed, the world morns the loss of
a civil rights icon, Clara Luper, who died recently at the age of eighty-eight.
Most people know of Mrs. Luper’s involvement in the historic sit-in at Katz
Drugstore and other public demonstrations but little about what motivated her
to get involved in the civil rights struggle. Visiting with Mrs. Luper in 1999,
we had a change to discuss that aspect of her life. Our discussion was
published in the “Humanities Interview,” a publication of the Oklahoma
Humanities Council, Fall of 1999.
Mrs. Luper was asked when she first became acquainted with
the NAACP, the organization to which she has been long associated. Her response
was that she had been in this organization for all her life and especially when
she attended Langston University, and again, when the organization came to
Oklahoma. She became involved in its work as a youth advisor in 1957.
Since Oklahoma was segregated prior to and including 1954 the opportunity to demonstrate against unfair treatment was not readily available. Mrs. Luper was asked to give some background into what let to her active involvement in protest activities. She stated that:
I grew up in Hoffman, Oklahoma, which is a small town where the blacks lived on one
side and the whites lived on another, where I had to walk, five miles to attend high school, Grayson High School Where we would go in the evenings, look into the white schools and see all the books and
just wish we could get in there and read. In Hoffman, Oklahoma, we had separate schools’, we had separate everything. It Was close to Henryetta, Oklahoma, where they had a sign:”Negros read and run; if you can’t read, run anyway.”
She told about not being allowed to try on shoes in Henryetta, Oklahoma and her mother buying shoes and bring them home taking for granted that they would fit. The one thing that stands out in her mind was “I saw my brother die after being taken to Henryetta, Oklahoma, where the doctors refused to wait on him because it was the law. They did not want to break the law.”Experiencing such a needless tragedy made lasting impression on her mind. But that experience alone was not the deciding element that motivated her into protest action. She states: “I hated segregation. And then I read the Constitution of The United States, and it seemed to me the more I read it, the more it spoke to me and said to me, “You are a citizen of the United States; you are entitled to these rights.” The NAACP had as its philosophy, had as its purpose to eliminate segregation. I would have considered myself to be a fool if I did not get into that organization. So it was that in 1954, we had a great victory when Thurgood Marshall ordered Linda Brown’s case to the Supreme Court. I never shall forget Thurgood Marshall’s rulings that said my case was won when the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution.”
What Luper said that ruling meant to her was that there was no place for segregation in education, transportation, public accommodation, housing, and employment as well as other things. She adds, “So I got involved as the advisor of the NAACP Youth Council because nobody else would take it.
That’s how I got it—because nobody else would take it. They (members of the NAACP chapter) went around the table and around and around and then finally, Dr. Atkins (Charles Atkins) said, ‘Clara, you don’t have anything to lose.’ And I said, ‘I sure don’t have anything to lose.” So I took it.”
When Mrs. Luper was asked if there was something significant about the location in Oklahoma City where the demonstrations took place, she answered “yes.” She went on to explain that We decided on Katz Drugstore, which was an all-purpose store. You could buy shoes down in the basement; you could eat upstairs if you were white; you could buy your medicine. It was quite an experience, plus it was open late and it was convenient. Katz Drugstore was where black people went in and they bought shoes, they bought clothes; they had their prescriptions filled. We thought that would be the ideal place. And it was.
Among her many experiences Mrs. Luper recounts a visit she made to a church in Capitol Hill where she went alone. She did not realize that the lines of men in the front of the church were not there to welcome her, but to prevent any outsiders from seeing her, a black woman enter the church. She
recall that: So, when I got into the church, the minister introduced me and he said, We have
with us this evening Ms. Clara Luper, a black woman.” I said, “Well thank you sir, I did not realize that I was coming to speak to a group of blind people.” He didn’t like that too well, but anyway I was able to make my point. I told them I was glad to be with my sisters and brothers because my understanding, but I might be wrong, was that we are all God’s children. Maybe you have a different philosophy, but I’m here at home with my brothers and sisters. And boy, I really made a big impression.
Ms. Luper mentioned that some white people had the fear their peers would reject them if they took a stand against segregation. Many did take a stand, she adds: “I was in jail twenty-six times, and most of the time someone white went along with me. When I went to Selma there were whites and when I went to Birmingham there were whites. …there were those that believed in freedom and those who didn’t.”
The life of any human being is complex even if the life was short, but when someone has lived some eighty-eight years no short account can begin to give justice to that life. The measure of the life of a person such as Ms. Clara Luper is not accounted by the fame and accolades she garnered for
herself, but what she was able to do for others through her life. The gifts she gave to Oklahoma, the nation, and the world are simply priceless. May she rest in peace.