Thursday, August 29, 2013

Words: The Meaning Or Interpretation

There seems to be no end to learning how to be "politically correct".  Now we must be careful to use the term bi-racial.  In the world in which I live, there just are not that many pure black people.  Most African Americans appear bi-racial.  Yet, "pissy" as it makes me feel to have to readjust again at age 75, I definitely feel a good deal of pressure to make the change.  I must exert the effort to refer to all lighter skinned dark people as bi-racial.  Certainly our President deserves the maximum level of respect we can offer.  Then, who wouldn't want to please someone that looks like and/or seems as nice as Lenny Kravitz.

Mr. Kravitz made a short, but significant, statement on a talk show recently.  He quoted a conversation he had with his mother concerning his heritage.  As best as I can paraphrase, she told him that he was half black and half white, not more one than the other.  But she told him that the world would see him as only one race, the one dictated by the color of his skin. 

Let's begin with a review of some of the appropriate terms.  When I became aware of racial differences, dark skinned people were called negroes.  One elegant authority figure in my life --
from the south -- pronounced it negra.  She meant no disrespect.  Then we were expected to switch to black.  At some point it was common to hear Afro-American, though some people both deny this and take offence.  Then we switched to African American, even though many of the dark-skinned people came from islands not related to Africa.  Now we are to say bi-racial where appropriate, which is about all the time. 

I'm reminded of all the changes required by Native Americans.  I wonder why I see that as somewhat irritating, as well.  The few drops of American Indian blood flowing in my veins by this generation must not be enough to spark my ire.  Neither did I get upset when a new acquaintance asked about my ancestry.  He couldn't wait to tell me my Irish ancestors floated across the ocean on their own scum. Yes, we were both supposedly adults.

Now, let's look at the word negro.  Webster's Spanish-English Dictionary defined negro and negra as an adjective that means black; dark, negro.  Okay, it describes the color of one's skin.  You should see the white boys that live across the street from me.  They mow lawns for a living every summer.  Their skin color changes to almost pure black.  What do you think may have caused humans in hot, sunny climates to have dark skin?  Generation after generation of exposure to the sun?  Another adaptation to an environment?  I actually heard a television show in the fifties proposing just such a theory.  I suggest you all be proud, not ashamed, of your skin color.  White people certainly spend a lot of time on beaches trying to achieve a darker look.

Personally, I like the Existential philosophy about "labels".  Words are just words.  The problem is how we interpret the words.  If we are super-sensitive to everything, words will hurt us worse.  I know about super-sensitive people.  I tend to be one myself.  I also know to keep it reined in constantly.  If I run around with a chip on my shoulder all the time, someone is liable to knock it off.

And now for the grand finale!  Genetic studies seem to indicate that the most recent common ancestor of all humans was African. See DNA by James D. Watson.  Think of all the progress made since that great American dreamed that we would judge his children by their character, not their skin color.  Then be proud and love yourselves.  I suspect that will be the time when words become just words.

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