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Labels are the biggest source of the problem. They are like strainers that keep out everything that don’t match an elaborate set of deep-rooted preconceptions. When people attach a label to you, they treat you like the label and everything you say and do from then on become words and actions that fit the label.
That’s why words like “nigger” and “racist” have to be handled like nitroglycerin in he back of a pick-up truck on a bumpy road.
You also have to realize that these two explosive words are not black and white reflections of each other.
If you are writing dialogue for a lot of African-Americans talking to or about each other, you have to use the word “nigga” because that’s a word most black Americans use to describe people they think are useless. Most African-Americans also use that word to denote white people whose actions fit the n-word stereotype.
“Nigger” is a corruption of the name of a river in Africa called the Niger. It was originally used as a synonym for black African slaves. Their descendants don’t wear the chins of slavery around their necks but the n-word is still a chain around their minds.
For centuries, African-Americans were intentionally divided along color line. The farther away you were from looking like a white person the less of a person you were presumed to be. Black did not become beautiful until 1966. You could get ahead if you were an exceptional entertainer or athlete (after 1947) or if you were an entrepreneur a doctor, an undertaker or a gangster no mater how light or dark your skin was. But if you didn’t have light skin and “good hair” you could put a plug in your ambitions to get very far in the American culture – unless you talked “white.”
If Polish-American descendants spoke American English with a Polish accent laid over Polish grammar they were in for a hard time, but if African-Americans spoke American English with a “black” accent laid over black gamer, they could hang it up. Black people as well as white people who spoke standard American English fluently, looked down on black people who didn’t although racially segregated neighborhoods and schools made it impossible for most black people to “blend in” with a society where most people grew up speaking standard American English in their homes.
Many of the black people who learned to speak this way also learned that they could improve themselves by becoming good Republicans and distancing themselves from “niggers” as much as possible. Thus the epithet “oreo.” – black on the outside/ white on the inside.
Things are worse now than they ever were for black Americans linguistically. You can’t teach a black kid to speak Standard English by first telling him that the way he speaks naturally is inferior to the way white people speak. It isn’t. And he knows it. He know that it is simply the way white people want him to talk if he wants to associate with them. It’s difficult. It’s unnatural and there is no guarantee that it will give him a better life. Now that black is beautiful (as opposed to irrelevant) they have to speak black to avoid being labeled oreos and they have to speak white to make a decent living – unless they become big rap stars or sell drugs to other black Americans.
This is where institutional racism comes in and why the concept of “black leadership” in the United States is largely a myth. Black people did not introduce heroine and crack cocaine into their neighborhoods. They did not create single parent families, they did not create their own poverty and they do not manufacture the guns that flood their neighborhoods. Government programs and government indifference to their plight over many generations did that. To be a black leader you have to have a white sponsor.
Jessie Jackson’s Rainbow coalitions would not exist without hefty checks from the Ford Foundation. All he has to do is smile for the camera with a big blue Ford oval behind him and ignore the crucial issues that keep black people down. You have identified a small number of them. And what about those lyrics to most of the rape “music” we’ve been hearing for the past twenty years. Who owns these record companies? Black people sure don’t.
Yes, there are black people of means who have tried to help the back community. O.J. did much more than he was given credit for. Former Piston’s basketball star Dave Bing started his own steel company and used it to help black people. Bill Cosby’s donation of 40 million dollars to Spelman College was nothing to sneeze at. Yet, things keep getting worse. Why? Because they don’t control and can’t control the institutions that created the disaster train and keep it rolling along.
And yes, people do have to take individual responsibility for what they do and don’t do. But it’s a mistake to insist that they take responsibility for things they cannot control Under similar circumstances people behave in predictably similar ways. Some people actually do better when they begin the race for success five steps back from the starting line. It is not reasonable to demand or expect most people follow their example. --Jasper