Sunday, February 5, 2017

Thunder Down Under: Labels

By Vic Midyett

My DNA heritage is Argentinean, German, French, English, and most proudly, Cherokee. I have predominantly olive skin and in the right circumstance could possibly pass as an Iranian or Middle-Eastern terrorist. What would my label be on sight? What would you call me? “Half-breed”? I have been called that, and so be it, even though it is biologically and mathematically impossible.
    I recall that when I was younger than ten, adults in my father’s home state of Tennessee referred to all African Americans as “niggers.” In my early teenage years I was part of the government’s mandate to desegregate the schools. Suddenly my friendship world grew. My learning, acceptance, tolerance, being better informed, and fun times grew with it. During that time I do not recall ever labeling any of my African American friends by anything other than their given names. The white “adults” in the community, however, still labeled them the same way they always had. This habit gradually diminished, and the label survived mostly as hush-hush and in “safe” circles.


As I was writing the article “Action and Reaction” [published on January 30], I got to thinking about a separate issue somewhat relating to it, around the accepted use, and the totally unacceptable use, of the word “nigger” – unacceptable because of its shameful historical significance. But it seems unacceptable only for “white Americans” to use it – or, actually, unacceptable only for anyone other than African Americans.
    I got to wondering why it was okay for African Americans to call each other “niggers.” Correct me if I am wrong, but is the term not directly linked to when African Americans were slaves in America, and at best “non-people” – the great-grandparents and grandparents, but hardly any fathers or mothers, of any African Americans alive today? This practice among some African Americans of calling each other “nigger” has only flourished in the last several years, and I have two questions about it.
    Question 1. When African Americans use the label with each other, are they not dishonouring the sorrowful lives of their forefathers and mothers by casually alluding to the realities of their existence under slavery? And, in keeping it alive, here and now, are they not throwing it into the faces of everyone else, including other ethnic groups, Hispanics, Irish, Italian, etc., etc.?
    Question 2. Does the label serve any positive role for the future of “we the people”? Of a united America? I don’t think so. Rather, it seems to me to scream,

We will never come together with you. Don’t you dare include me. I am an African American who chooses to never be included in “just American” or “us Americans.” And I will show my refusal to be included in those designations by calling my own kind “nigger.”
    It is not a bad thing that African Americans don’t ever want to forget what their forefathers and mothers went through at the hand of prejudice, ignorance, and total wrongdoing, but when does “here and now” kick in? When will “here and now” get an opportunity to live and grow in harmony?

Call me a “half-breed” if you wish. I choose not to allow your “garbage”* to stick to me or mine. My Cherokee great-grandmother might have whipped you with a hickory switch, but I live in the “here and now.” For me, I choose to pay the label no mind.
    As I fondly remember my high school days and all the friends I had, no matter the colour of their skin, I would love for someone to tell me a defensible reason why the word “nigger” has not gone away.
    With hopeful respect to all, I write this as an American, an Australian, and a product of several ethnic blood lines, but most of all – to quote Dustin Hoffman in the classic movie Little Big Man – as a human being.

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* See the taxi story in “Action and Reaction.”


Copyright © 2017 by Vic Midyett

16 comments:

  1. The fact is that whites here no longer use that name, against people of color it's "Yard Apes" now. The first lady was the Ape in high heels. Your friends in school stopped using the word because they didn't want to seem uncool. When I first came back to the South there was none of the names or talk you hear today. But your friends grew up and became their parents. The first black President and the open racist that is in the white house now is what changed all of that. As to why blacks can use the word nigger or gays can use the word queer with each other? They took the word of hate and made it their own. You cannot use it because it was your race that made it a word of hate. Myself I don't like hearing these names by any group. I had a very good friend in Washington State that during the LA riots in the sixties, stood fast with his brothers in LA. He came from a very well to do family. Had a college degree and a damn good job. I asked him why the strong support for the rioters that he had nothing in common with? His answer: "Their is not a black person in the US that has not been called nigger by some white person." I hope this helps answer your question. It is a subject that needs a black voice to explain and goes much deeper than labeling.

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  2. Yes, I would love a black voice to explain it.

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  3. I feel that this, like your previous post, boils down to issues of power. Words can be brushed off if the person speaking them lacks the capacity to act on them, but when spoken by an individual with power they can become harmful, hurtful, dangerous - it's the difference between a stranger calling a person crazy and a psychiatrist calling a person crazy.

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  4. I don't disagree. Power is still a societal perception that we all choose to allow to rule. Or at least give "more" credence to. However, don't we all put our pants on the same way - one leg at a time? I'm loving the feed back coming in. I was beginning to wonder, on both articles, if no one wanted to poke at the outer boundaries and discuss the "touchy" things. I firmly believe that being "politically correct" in discussions and communications is destroying discussions and communications. And just like the rest of the world right now, we are going backwards and losing the plot of acceptable behavior. So bravo! Love it! And thank you!

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  5. To possibly further "political incorrectness" and from my point of view, credentials is excellent knowledge gained and wisdom is not something that can be taught.

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  6. While I believe you cannot teach wisdom, you can teach questioning. And encouraged questioning is the road to wisdom.

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  7. I would question your assertion that power is a societal perception that we all choose to allow to rule. Does my unwillingness to concede power prevent the police from arresting me, my boss from firing me, or my neighbours from attacking me? We all put out our pants the same way, but not everyone carries a 9mm handgun or a Centurion card in their pocket.

    (P.S. I tried commenting on the first article but received an error which lost my post after I tried to submit and I didn't want to write it out again. My thoughts there were much as they are here, though I wonder if 'political correctness' is less to blame than ideological tribalism of all stripes)

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  8. Michael, you raise some excellent points and I thank you for engaging with me. Most of the thoughts I was having when I read your first comment was if a person had, for example, advanced credentials, that they are to be believed. I have not found that to be true in 'some' instances. Some folks with extra knowledge, but without wisdom are as screwy as the rest of us. And we must always question them AND ourselves for the 'truth of it'. I agree with your reference of "powerlessness" around a 9mm or a bulging wallet. For me, it is not the gun or the money that will harm us, but the person without values and common respect holding them.

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  9. Ah, but if it is not the gun or money but the values of the person who holds them which are dangerous, are not certain minorities justified in their concerns about the use of racial epithets insofar as they reveal the values and respect (or lack thereof) of those armed persons which use them?

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  10. Absolutely. In far too many cases it seems, "you can't fix stupid".
    I have permission to share this - I got a private email from someone who asked that question to an African American young lady with whom she worked, "why did they call each other "nigger". The girls answer was, "It is a form of endearment for us now. I only say it to friends and LOVERS."
    It seems to me that substantiates my "scream" summation. Doesn't it? So I still don't fully understand why it needs to be kept alive. Perhaps it is an effort to turn a strong negative into a good positive. ?

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  11. To an extent, yes it does support your 'scream' summation - but I think you are viewing the idea of everyone 'coming together' with rose-tinted glasses. The label of 'just American' or 'us Americans'
    is, despite its innocent phrasing, linked to a specifically white American identity. This is why certain groups are able to tell blacks who have lived in America all their life to 'go back to Africa' - they are not 'real Americans' because 'real Americans' are defined as /white/ Americans. The choice for black Americans, as I understand it, is between an identity based on either a) 'passing' as white, b) relinquishing their own identity and becoming 'non-white', or c) asserting their own identity as uniquely black.

    For context, my thinking on this topic has been shaped by Pierre Bourdieu's seminal work 'Distinction', in which he difference at the heart of identity and identity at the heart of the self, a place (as you and Jake well know!) is of crucial importance to an individual's wellbeing. It's well worth reading.

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  12. Yes Michael, I agree on my wanting to wear rose tented glasses on this matter. I suppose I am the eternal optimist constantly wanting to place the aspiration bar high.

    Being of proud Cherokee stock, it seems ignorant for "white" folks to think the most important American is that color. Getting more general or generic, I suggest the hardest and most important lesson a human being has to learn in this life is to take responsibility for himself and his OWN actions. Only then can we say, "We are a product of ourselves. Thanks so much again for engaging with me.

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  13. And thank you, Michael, for engaging Vic here on Moristotle & Co., where we highly value both thoughtful articles and thoughful commentary. Return anytime. You are welcome.

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  14. I too want to encourage you to give up more thoughts on this touchy discussion if you have any. I appreciate you and this respectful dialog. And thanks Morris, for your thoughtful encouragement too.

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  15. Thanks, both of you, it's been a pleasure :) . I have some thoughts about the impossibility of being a product of one's self and the paradox of free will but this can wait for another time.

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    1. Sounds like something worth waiting for! Thanks. Submit an article for publication? We would welcome it. If you can communicate with Vic, he can give you my email address.

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