You can’t say that word! Part II

The N WordPart I

It is a word and nothing more. Yes, it is a very evil word and it is a difficult word to use correctly, due to the fact, that if I do say that word in reference to any person no matter what the pigmentation of their skin, I am distinctly not being complimentary. So, if the word nigger is to be used, it should not be used indiscriminately, or, tossed about with a feeling of impunity. Because if the word is used then it is calling someone a lazy, shiftless, no good, worthless person, a person that is of no use for anything and that is incapable of trust.
Yes, the word does have certain connotations if said in certain ways to certain groups of people, but, all and all, in the end result, it is but a word that we as a society have given way too much power.
We let the word have power over our lives and over what we are as a people. And that is the issue that we must deal with, i.e., the societal issue of “race” and not the damn word. For that is what this whole damn stuff is about. It isn’t a black or a white issue nor is it a yellow or a black issue or a brown and a red issue it is about who, and what, we are as a people… as the human race, and how far we have come and have yet to go.

On March 5, 2008, a regular contributor to the website the Daily Kos by the name of Meteor Blades Follow, aka Timothy Lange, wrote Racism in 21st Century America. In this piece he said the following: “Race is a human creation (just like class), not a product of biology, though it is created out of, and with, the markers and tools of biology. Five years ago, the PBS Special, “Race, The Power of Illusion” pointed out what’s become scientifically irrefutable in the era of DNA studies: there’s only one race, the human race. But years of misguided science, stereotypes, imperialism, and culture clashes have created the concept of race to the point where, basically, it is now entrenched in the human psyche, and no amount of scientific evidence can undo it. Just how idiotic this is can be seen in what is designated as “white.” Let’s face it, any “race” that includes both full-blooded Swedes and full-blooded Sicilians is a very elastic definition.“But because of its history, race now has a significance that it is anti-progressive to ignore. Once introduced into human society, race has implications and human experiences are shaped by it. To ignore the implications of those experiences is a wrong-headed approach, I believe. We are all humans, but our histories and experiences have not all been the same. The question isn’t to pretend that this isn’t the case, but what we do with that knowledge and recognition.”One of the problems with the whole black/white issue, and race, is that it is not an issue of race that we need to deal with but it is of ethnicity, or, actually, of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture or situation and which is determined by many variables such as religion and economic status as well as … color of skin. Ethnocentric thinking is a natural development of individuals and as individuals comprise social groups, it is also a natural development (although much more complex and involved) of those social entities. It is probably at the basis, along with greed, as the basis and rationale for all war and desire for economic control, including slavery, down through the ages of mans’ so-called civilized history.

Are there any niggers here tonight? Could you turn on the house lights, please, and could the waiters and waitresses just stop serving, just for a second? And turn off this spot. Now what did he say? “Are there any niggers here tonight?” I know there’s one nigger, because I see him back there working. Let’s see, there’s two niggers. And between those two niggers sits a kyke. And there’s another kyke— that’s two kykes and three niggers. And there’s a spic. Right? Hmm? There’s another spic. Ooh, there’s a wop; there’s a polack; and, oh, a couple of greaseballs. And there’s three lace-curtain Irish micks. And there’s one, hip, thick, hunky, funky, boogie. Boogie boogie. Mm-hmm. I got three kykes here, do I hear five kykes? I got five kykes, do I hear six spics, I got six spics, do I hear seven niggers? I got seven niggers. Sold American. I pass with seven niggers, six spics, five micks, four kykes, three guineas, and one wop. Well, I was just trying to make a point, and that is that it’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. Dig: if President Kennedy would just go on television, and say, “I would like to introduce you to all the niggers in my cabinet,” and if he’d just say “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger” to every nigger he saw, “boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie,” “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger” ’til nigger didn’t mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger at school.

– From the 1974 Julian Barry screenplay for the movie “Lenny” (A docudrama on the life of comic Lenny Bruce)

Individuals judge other groups relative to their own ethnic group or culture. Those perceptions or judgments are then used in decisions on how to treat those other groups or whether they will be readily included into the judging groups circle. In itself this is not necessarily bad but taken into the entire spectrum of human history and associated humanity’s societal and economic development, and, how the world operates, it becomes very involved and very intricate. In real life ethnocentrism has been used to conquer and control or enslave people probably throughout the beginning of humanity’s social existence. Whether ethnocentric practices are overt or subtle they are real and dangerous and at the basis of what is called racism as well as many other discriminatory actions that humans use to control other humans, usually, but not limited to, for economic gain.Lenny Bruce

Race, unfortunately, as Lange indicates above, is what so-called controlling intelligentsia circles through history began to call the various ethnic diversities that exist throughout the world. The reality is that now (since the latter part of the 20th century) many in the world of science say that the idea of race often is used in a “… naive or simplistic way, i.e. that among humans, race has no taxonomic significance: all living humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens and subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens (Wiki).” In plain words, race has no biological or genetic basis and the entire idea of race is a socially and legally constructed concept with no scientific basis.
However, the reality is that people do think and talk about a concept of race. And, they build a reality through which they make social differentiations base on this concept. And, these differentiations which are affected by various other social, economic and religious, as well as many other categorizations, too numerous to list, all come together and develop into a construct that enables race to have material and psychological effects in the lives of people. In others words race is used in a discriminatory manner and throughout history, as well as in the world today, it has led to instances of slavery and genocide.

At this point I realized that outside of some stuff I had picked up along the way of living through the civil rights era, and, certain philosophical debates during my activist days that may or may not have been discussed under the influence, I knew very little about (1) when, and how, the enslavement of people from Africa began in America, and, (2) where the word nigger came from.

So, I started searching the web and I discovered that essentially before 1640 not all, and quite realistically maybe most, people of African Ancestry were slaves. In fact, most Africans were more than likely indentured servants. Who, if they worked for a predetermined period in their lives, would be granted their freedom and could go about with their lives as most any other citizen was entitled. At least that was the legal and theoretical plan. (At times these periods were extended beyond the agreed upon time periods but there is documentation that they could retain a lawyer and sue for their freedom and often would win their cases in a court of law.) In fact records from Virginia (circa 1623 and 1624) list most Africans as servants. And, later entries show there were actually an increasing numbers of free blacks, some of whom were given land to settle. However, by 1640 in Virginia, at least one African was ordered by the court “to serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere.” In other words he was officially declared to be enslaved. And then my first piece of eye-opening education occurred (with much more to come): The grounds for this court judgment more than likely was not due to the color of skin but was probably due to the fact of the person being a non-Christian. Regardless of the reason why, the fact was that a transformation from enslavement based upon religion to skin color would change within a generational life span in colonial America.

Other research shows that when the English settled the first permanent colony in the New World (Jamestown) that tobacco was the first major money group that supported and drove the colony’s economy and purpose for existence. And once it was determined that this tobacco crop was going to be raised as a major export commodity to the Old World, labor was needed to grow, harvest and package the product to be sent to the Old World. At this point British capitalists/aristocracy looked at using indentured servants from Britain, Native Americans, and West Africa.
Initially, the capitalists decided to use indentured servants from England (due to the fact that at the time there were large amounts of people in Great Britain without work) who were engaged into contracts of servitude, many of up to seven years of service, in exchange for having their trip to Jamestown paid for by someone in the new world. Once the agreed upon time was over, the indentured worker was free to live in Jamestown as a regular citizen. However, plantation owners (capitalists) saw this as method of raising and selling their crop as a cost they did not want to absorb. Or, to put it more bluntly, they wanted more profit margin.

So they then turned to using the area’s native peoples. One factor that dissuaded the use of Native Americans was that these peoples were targets of a sustained military campaign designed to usurp their possession of desired property, i.e., they were an indigenous people that were to be conquered so the English could possess their property inclusive of all the land they lived upon. Another factor (one that I give little, if any, credence) was that since the Native Americans were light skinned they were seen as potential candidates for “civilization” or conversion over to the Europeans way of life and being introduced to a Christian way of thinking. Another factor appears to be that conquered American Indians who were enslaved were more familiar with the environment due to the fact they lived there as an indigenous people, and, could easily escape into the familiar wilderness. Africans, however, who were new to the New World, would be less inclined to try to escape since the environment was foreign to them as well as the another inescapable fact, i.e., their skin color made it easier to detect an escapee. And the last factor worth noting was that the American Indian was much more susceptible to certain diseases, such as malaria, than the African people were.

Therefore, by the 1620’s they turned to Dutch traders who were bringing over a new commodity: human bodies from the continent of Africa who would be sold as property (slaves) to be tithed to the colonial buyer for the rest of his slave life. And, not only his, or her, own lifetime but for the lifetimes of any progeny that they might produce during their life of enslavement. In plain words, Africans were introduced as slaves as the best answer to a prevailing cheap labor shortage in the New World.

Thus, the beginning of the African people being enslaved was established at about the early to mid-1620s.

I want to point out one final example of an initial major establishment of African slavery in the colonies, which was with the establishment of the colony in Charlestown and South Carolina in 1670.Slavery1620

Due to the overpopulation of the colony of Barbados some the sugar plantation owners moved lock, stock and barrel to South Carolina and helped to establish that colony. As they did so they brought with them large groups of their African slave laborers. And, though this, established a so-called beachhead of African slave labor in the colonies and the transformation to, and, establishment of, African people as a major source of cheap, or free labor, or slave labor. Still, the fact was that Africans were still not the predominate source of labor in the American colonies. To their needs for a cheap work force the rich land owning Carolina colonists practiced the enslavement of the people who actually lived along the eastern seacoast … the Indians.

Tomorrow: Part III: uh  . . .Indians?

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