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On Harry Reid’s Obama comment, African-Americans and Whites-Caucasians should lighten up.

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On Harry Reid’s Obama comment, African-Americans and Whites-Caucasians should lighten up.

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By Helen L. Burleson, Doctor of Public Administration

USAfrica: The News & Opinion Leader for Africans and Americans.

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Special to USAfrica multimedia networks, Houston. USAfricaonline.com,  CLASSmagazine, The Black Business Journaland Nigeria360@yahoogroups e-group

So Harry Reid spoke aloud what is a prevailing view and practice in America.  Looking historically back to slavery, the offspring of the master were given the easier work of being the mistress’ house servant.  In other words they were referred to as “house slaves” as opposed to “field slaves.”  Because they worked inside the home and served the wealthy visiting guests, they learned English, though sometimes it was merely pigeon English.  This ability elevated them above the field slaves, thus establishing a hierarchy.

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The house slaves because of their lighter skin were often sought after by white “aristocracy” and in New Orleans there were balls given where match making was made between the “mulatoos” and the wealthy gentlemen.  Paternity was not acknowledged; and despite the mistress seeing the similarity between her children and the children of the house slaves, she kept her mouth shut.

Remember women had no rights and were subject to the frailties of their husbands.  Because they were well cared for and often did not have to lose their figures because the black house maid, often referred to as mammy, was also the wet nurse for the mistress’s babies.  The black house maid often nursed the white baby before she nursed her own.  Both women felt a certain sense of privilege, the white mistress because she had no labor to tend to and the black house maid because she was spared working in the sweltering sun.  This was a cozy arrangement that “benefited” all: the white master who had his sexual fantasies and desires satisfied by his black house maid, the white mistress whose only stress was seeing that she was sharing her husband, and the black house maid who was able to eat and feed her offspring from the master’s leftovers and to learn some “affected” social graces.

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As recently as the ‘50’s, the government continued to perpetrate this practice.  A very fair-skinned friend of mine was hired by the government to “integrate” a government office where she was considered to be “white.”  After tiring of hiring all the disparaging remarks made about black people, she revealed her ethnicity; and was immediately shunned by the same coworkers who embraced her when they thought she was white.  After a “respectable” period of time, blacks were hired with a little more color in their skin.  It progressed until the dark-skinned blacks were finally hired.

In Chicago, a fair-skinned black woman was hired by Spiegel Company as the human resource manager.  My fair-skinned cousin and I both went to seek employment.  My cousin was hired and I was not.  I am very obviously brown.  I was an honor student.  My cousin was a marginal student who called me every night to get help with her homework.  Obviously brains were not the hiring criteria, color was.

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When I went to teach in Washington, D C in 1956, every teacher over 40 years old was very fair-skinned.

The Village where I live has a black mayor of mixed race who was openly embraced by the community because he looks more like them than he does like us.

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This is old news for most people of African descent.  Also we are aware of the fact that because of the privileges accorded fair-skinned people; they, the fair-skin people tried to keep their “blood pure” by marrying people who were also fair-skinned.  This foolish practice went to the extreme in some families where at funerals and social gatherings the dark-skinned members were seated on one side of the room and the fair-skinned ones on the other side.

This is America’s shame.  Not only do we have continued racism in this country, class distinction and separation; but, we also have people of African descent who feel privileged because their skin is not dark.  This ignorance is what has been the bane of America for centuries.  Many brilliant people who could have caused America to advance faster and further were denied the opportunity to make a contribution because of their color.

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No one should be offended by Senator Harry Reid’s remarks; I am not because I know American history.  Many white Americans are embarrassed because it has brought out of the closet what has historically been a prevailing practice in America ever since the Emancipation Proclamation.  Despite all of the Acts enacted to assure equality, American society is still divided and unequal.  Electing a Black president will not bring an end to a deep seeded, deep rooted problem in the American psyche.

What we need in America is a Secretary of Psychiatry to help us rid ourselves of old prejudices, to help us value people by their talents and abilities to advance our society and to heal and resolve the internal conflict pervasive throughout this country.  America is still racist and sick.  When we are healed, there is no stopping us.  For now, we are in grave danger of being surpassed by China.  I would include India, but India has a caste system that also needs to be eradicated.

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What we all need is to be working toward a world where all the world’s people are respected and accepted and can live in peace.

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3 Comments

  1. The saying goes, in Black American colloquial circles, that:

    If you're white, you're alright,

    If you're black, get back,

    If you're brown, stick around.

    I am yet to find anyone who can explain what was racist about Senator Reid's comments. If anything, it offered an explanation, albeit, along racial lines, on the Obama phenomenon, at the time.

    The difference between racialism and racism is merely semantic. However, in this case, it is by no means insignificant. On the contrary. While the one may be an attempt, or the practice of explaining events through the prism of race, the other would be seen as the act of making or promoting comments or policies that are likely to favor certain groups over others.

    Race is to this country what tribe is to many others; a very sensitive issue. Politicians, who thrive by muddying the waters, would not hesitate to exploit the situation for political expediency.

    As for Reid, he is really not saying anything that anyone disagrees with. Not even Blacks. And I will submit that the objectionable outcry from his political opponents is feigned.

    We continue to dream and hope for the day when the color of a man's skin will have, absolutely, nothing do, in the eyes of society, with his potentials. To be sure, we have come a long way, and that's what keeps the dream alive; but the struggle,by all mean, continues.

  2. Unfortunately, as Dr. Burleson stated in her article, this type of prejudice is routed in the American psyche, and it doesn't simply end with black & white. The unspoken rule, the self evident formula for acceptance against the backdrop of the white majority, the status-quo, is "fairer is better"; or maybe more accurately, "fairer is closer", and therefore passable. In my own personal experiences in corporate America, the only African-American employee that has survived at my former employer is a categorically "white looking" mulatto with blue eyes. All others, the decidedly brown ones, have been pushed out one way or another. That's no coincidence, though leadership would never admit to such a trend; and I'm convinced they may not even be fully aware of it. So I'd say the most simple and least incriminating explanation is this: people, all people, have a tendency to be most comfortable with, and therefore accepting of, others who closely mirror them. We just happen to live in a place where the decision makers' reflections differ from ours.

    In conclusion, this issue isn't solely an American issue; its a human issue, magnified by the sensation of America's fiery and relatively recent history. So in a broader sense, I don't think we're the sick nation amongst a world of thriving sensibilities; I think quite the contrary. I think our ability and openness to having these discussions, to allow controversy and opposition, indicates our leadership in the battle for global equality. Harry Reid is merely a man; a temporary man, in a temporary post. He, or any man, is not bigger than the living concepts of freedom and equality; and so the developmental streams of thought churned up from his gabbing are far more valuable than him or his wrongness.

    1. Reid was making a political assessment. Any competent professional can assess the assess and liabilities of a professional in the same field. That's not prejudice.

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