The quickest way to either build your career or destroy it is through controversy and Sen. Joseph Biden, of Delaware, something he should have already known. Soon after Biden announced his intentions to run for the presidency, in an interview with the New York Observer, Biden described Sen. Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

However, Biden is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy, which tells you, he should have known better. He should have known that his biggest enemy has repeatedly been his own mouth. We often hear that “those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it.” In his first Presidential bid back in 1988, Biden was also surrounded by controversy. In my opinion, the whole plagiarism scandal is a bit questionable. There was a lot of funny business going on at that time. However, when it comes to Freudian slips, he definitely has not learned from his past mistakes. Last summer, in explaining the demographic shift in Delaware, Biden said, “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” Later that year, on “Fox News Sunday,” he bragged about his potential appeal to Southern voters by noting “You don’t know my state. My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest black population in the country.”

Words are needed to construct language and language is needed to express thoughts. It is funny how words often fail to meet the expectations we put on them. That is so true for Joe Biden, soon after he made that remark about Obama, he tried to explain his comment,

Earlier in the day, the Delaware Democrat said during a conference call his comments reflected his mother’s expression: “Clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack,” he said. Four hours later, he issued a statement saying, “I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent and I expressed that to Senator Obama.”

What was supposed to be his be coming out party as he announced his candidacy for President, he probably felt more like he was drowning in a vat of acid as he spent the rest of the explaining himself.
It really is not that hard to figure out precisely what he was alluding to by using racially coded language, such as “clean,” “mainstream,” “articulate and bright,” and “nice-looking” to describe Obama. Most white mainstream pundits on the right and left have primarily focused on the word “clean,” because they are acting as if they are concerned on how super-sensitive Blackfolk will take it. Basically, it is a facade to cover their real motives, a warped sense of congratulatory adulation for Bidin and how they wish they could skillfully do what many white corporate journalist do not have the courage to admit to: that they consider that Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson are everything Obama is not, your sterotypical uppty black man.

The fact is while many accept that while Biden’s use of “clean” was questionable, it is other elements of his statement that make it far worse than the possible jab at non-Obama Black leaders. A major problem with words is their perceived emotional connotations. Connotation in language involves the semantic or deep-structure of words, expressions and texts and is, therefore, strongly related to culture. The fact is, we live in a binary system of opposites which does reflect the archetypal dualism in man’s consciousness.

Here in the United States, we do divide people in the world into the categories of “Clean” and “Dirty” and historically, the use of the word “clean” has come to be synonymous with “whiteness.” In the late 1950s, the word “clean” was used to justify segregation. However, the rules separating dirty from clean are not clear or principled. For example, in Dearborn, MI, Orville Hubbard, Dearborn’s mayor, was blunt and unrelenting in his pursuit to “keep Dearborn clean,” which intended white people only. Our society and culture (especially in elite circles) have racist and classist legacies, which have yet to be fully reconciled or addressed. Former- Secretary of the Treasury under the Clinton administration and President of Harvard University, Laurence Summers, while working for the World Bank in 1991, wrote a memo about “dirty industries,” which was eventually leaked:

‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the [Less Developed Countries] LDCs I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

This type of word use is not limited to African Americans. In book Understanding Words that Wound, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic address the immediate danger of hate speech to Latinos and other historically disempowered groups. Hate speech does not just apply to overt charge words used by folks like the KKK, it further reflects the socially accepted stereotypes. Understanding Words that Wound agues that unpunished hate speech harm individuals and society because it diminishes targeted group members and advocates their different treatment. Walter Lippmann, who coined the term “stereotype,” explained that people make generalize about other people based on fixed views and because of that, our moral system rests on the “accepted version of the facts.”

Widespread belief in the disparagement of historically shunned groups is perpetuated through controversial statements about them. The acute attitudes that stereotypes can prompt in both speakers and victims indicate the extent that those who are affected by prejudices can range from the personal and to group identities. The term “dirty Mexican” is liberally attributed to the Latino community to which Latinos are viewed as being dangerous, lazy, hyper-sexual, intellectual inferior, and intemperance.

Destructive messages can catalyze crimes against humanity such as the Holocaust, American slavery, and Native American removal. There are plenty of historical examples where this has occurred. In a landmark study that was conducted after World War II, The Authoritarian Personality, it was revealed how it was possible for great masses of supposedly enlightened, Christian people were willingly to tolerate the systematic oppression and extermination of their fellow citizens who just happen to be Jewish, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Black, mentally and physically-impaired people, and political dissenters. The goal of the study was to use scientific method in understanding what was “it” that caused an individual to act prejudicial to their fellow person, and to use those findings to help seek a solution to inter-group prejudice and hatred. The report revealed that authoritarian tendencies in an individual’s personality make him receptive to anti-democratic propaganda and policies that target out-groups for discrimination and destruction.  

The personality tendencies of the authoritarian-disposed individual were found to include:

“Cultural narrowness”  seen in rigid acceptance of the conventional middle-class values of “the culturally ‘alike'” and the tendency to reject and punish “the culturally ‘unlike’ . . . who violate conventional values.” (Ibid, pp 102, 228);

–Negative stereotyped perceptions of the members of “unlike” out-groups (Ibid, pp 228, 235, 236), rather than seeing them as individuals who also laugh and cry and love and hate, or who, in the words of Joseph Berger, “lived, laughed, cursed, fought, who did the things human beings do” (“At Holocaust Museum, Turning a Number into a Name,” The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2004);

–Anti-introspection, i.e. resistance to self-understanding, to soul- searching, to cause-and-effect analysis of individual and group behavior, unable to tolerate ambiguity, belief in mystical, unexplainable phenomenon, disparaging intellectual attempts to perceive life’s nuances and complexities (Ibid, pp 236, 235); and

–Aggression, involving “the ethnocentric need for an out-group” who represents “the intrinsic evil (aggressiveness, laziness, power-seeking, etc.) of human nature . . . [that] is unchangeable [and] must be attacked, stamped out, or segregated, wherever it is found, lest it contaminate the good.” (Ibid, pages 232-234, 148).

The urge to oversimplify dilemmas and find designated scapegoats for complex predicaments underlies the popularity of stereotypes. Approaching adversities from a biased perspective gives simplistic though meaningful answers to inexplicable predicaments. Latinos are often blamed for losses in jobs and the reduction in wages.

Continued uses of code words like “articulate,” “mainstream,” and “nice looking” are only manifested substitutions for the “oh you are not like them” messages. Repeating misethnic slurs only perpetuates institutionalized discrimination, which is only meant to detract from a person’s humanity, dignity, self-respect, standing, and potential. After a while, epithets become the norm and a frame of reference not only to individuals but also to the person’s entire cultural group. Biden’s the message implied that he saw black people in America as different from the “norm” – unfamiliar and not quite equal.

The message is a painful reminder, not only to African Americans, but also to all people of color of the extent of white society’s commitment to white supremacy. Biden’s, as a white man and representing this country’s power elite, message implied, if we strongly hope to achieve the “American Dream” we must become like Obama who is capable of using the proper subject/verb agreement, not look and act so “ghetto” so “barrio” or “rancho” – all forms of internal colonialism. As stereotypes are communicated repeatedly in diverse social contexts, in time, less information is require to evoke a whole series of negative connotations. The fact that Biden remarked that Obama was the first “mainstream” African American implied that Shirley Chisholm, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley Braun & Rev. Al Sharpton were more uppity and did not know their place in society, so they did not count. The underlining question is, are people of color who seek leadership roles held to higher standards? The answer is yes.

For African Americans, it has been found that there are fewer black members of corporate boards or black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and those with a “black-sounding” names are less likely to be interviewed or hired than a person named John or Jenny. As for Latinos, studies have documented the challenges encountered by Latino applicants for presidencies and provostships at American colleges and universities. The studies found that “key decision makers in the selection process for presidents and provosts expected higher standards of qualifications and experience for Latino men and women than for members of other ethnic and racial groups.” Even though this article, The Dearth of Latinos in Campus Administration, by Roberto Haro focuses on Latinos, the patterns Dr. Haro found in researching the “type” of person sought for a leadership experience are the same patterns among other people of color I have found through my own personal conversations other people.

In the screening process used to select senior campus leaders, some questionable patterns surfaced. Four deserve mention: the “type” of person sought; the desired experience; the “style” of the candidate; and interview performance. What is meant by type? A particular image emerges that includes words like tall, distinguished-looking, well-dressed, and impeccably groomed. A trustee at a selective liberal-arts college I interviewed said, “Look at the pictures of our previous presidents. Now that’s what we want for this college.” As I looked at the photographs, they were all white males. In a nutshell, most of the institutions wanted a distinguished-looking, gray-haired, white man, standing about six feet tall and dressed in an expensive designer suit. A few might settle for a white woman with similar characteristics. Some white male candidates could get away with being shabbily dressed; they were simply viewed as tweedy intellectuals or athletics boosters in their sport coats, but Latino candidates who dressed down found that it was held against them.

The matter of “style” was difficult, but possible, to categorize. Decision makers wanted candidates of a particular culture, polished speakers, those at ease in any setting, attentive listeners, and stable personalities, the ideal Rotary Club leader. A white female vice president at a research university said she had voted against a Latino presidential candidate because he “did not appreciate the Western European tradition and literature.” This was surprising given that the Latino candidate had a strong reputation for translating some of the Great Books of European writers into Spanish. The head of a search committee at a selective liberal-arts college rejected a Latino candidate because he “spoke with an accent,” and used a “terminology and pronunciation in his vernacular that did not sound like good English.” The candidate had a soft Southern drawl and used terms he had learned during extensive study in England and France.

A trustee at a two-year college was displeased by the earrings a Latina applicant was wearing and said they appeared “cheap and distracting, reflecting poor taste.” They were modest family heirlooms handed down through three generations. At a different two-year college, a trustee voted against a Latina candidate because the woman “was overweight, and her blouse was too tight;” the college ultimately hired a white woman who was overweight. These are but a few of the subjective comments that revealed biases against Latino candidates.

It is that kind of thought process that is the root cause for the disparity we currently are having in this country between whites and people of color. It is why every year white students at prestigious universities – Clemson University (2007); the University of Texas at Austin (2006); the University of Chicago (2005); Cornell (2004); and MIT (2003) – feel they can mock the appearance and behavior of the black and brown people of the “ghetto” and “barrio” by throwing a “ghetto themed party” – 40-ounce cans of malt liquor, fried chicken, fake guns, “ethnic” names, do-rags, jeweled grills on their front teeth, and loud jewelry were all part of their party.

Hate is addictive because it yields a sense of power but like all addictions it is a deception. We are very clever at trying to deceive our fellow people into unquestioning loyalty. Loyalty is where social power really is. It is rationalized by selectively picking out the evidence until there is sufficient evidence to justify their point. This fraudulent way of gathering evidence is a common trait of bigots and extremists.

Historically, charismatic bigots can galvanize dangerous social movements by manipulating widespread prejudices. Racial stereotypes of Latinos have already been exploited to gain support for federal statutes that curb the rights of legal and illegal immigrants. News is even further tainted when it becomes a platform for hate dressed in the cloak of respectability. Adolf Hitler used the indiscretions of some Jews as evidence of all Jews being “collectively guilty” to justify his plans for persecuting them in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, years before he became Chancellor of Germany. The KKK looks for incidents of black crime to justify their own hate crimes. Andrew Jackson won the presidency in 1829, in part, because of his vocal support for Indian removal, and he continued that aim during his term in office.

The essential need for the contextual analysis is of particular importance in avoiding the destructive psychological effects to children and adults. Prejudices are often learned early in life, before children are wary enough to question their validity. Culture imprints beliefs and practices in children that are easily manipulated by the advocacy of violent, antisocial behavior against a historically disempowered group. The depictions of Latinos as criminals or drunkards on television perpetuate racism by giving these false representations a de facto stamp of popular approval.

Jeanne Guana writes:

After the Mexican American War ended in 1848, people of Mexican origin faced lynchings, land theft and virulent racism. Later, in times of economic depression, people of Mexican origin–citizens and non-citizens alike–were deported en masse . . . . As a result, many Mexican-origin people internalized the racism and learned to despise all things Mexican.

Unfortunately, internalized oppression runs high within the Latino community because it is deep-rooted within us. We have been conditioned at many levels and for many centuries to believe that lighter skin is more desirable. Despising all things native to ourselves causes unhealthy behavior, including self-loathing and participation in the perpetuation of negative stereotypes. Latinos may be conditioned to believe that other Latinos – particularly recent immigrants – are also taking away jobs or are unfairly taking advantage of the social services they are not qualified to receive.

Additionally, we may avoid from using Spanish in professional settings because it will betray our heritage, or we may believe that Whiter is better. In fact, our own self-loathing curtails our own empowerment efforts because we have been conditioned at many levels and for many centuries to believe that lighter skin is more desirable. So it is not surprising when Latinos have stopped drinking the “kool aid,” likeother oppressed people in this society, we should question the reasons when someone is able to twist reality in such a way that conforms to contemporary socio-political “norms.”

0 0 votes
Article Rating