WHAT’S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN BLACK HISTORY MONTH AND ETHNOPHAULISMS?
February is, among other things, Black History Month, and we learn something new every day. In my case, it was two weeks ago, and the new word I learned was “ethnophaulism.” This noun, which means “ethnic or racial slur,” was a neologism proposed by Harvard professor Abraham Aaron (A.A.) Roback, himself a Jew, in 1944.
One of the classes I’m taking right now at Chabot College is called PSCN 13 (Psychology-Counseling 13) which is described in the catalog as Multicultural Issues in Contemporary America. It is in the context of this subject that I encountered the word “ethnophaulism” a couple of weeks ago. In contemporary America, perhaps no other ethnophaulism or racial slur has generated as much heated debate and heightened emotion as the “n” word. Just for the sake of clarification and not to encourage its continued use, I will specify which “n” word I’m referring to: n-i-g-g-e-r. For PSCN 13, our professor asked us to watch an excerpt from an episode of “The View,” where at one point Elisabeth Hasselbeck (who is white) was already getting teary-eyed as Whoopi Goldberg (who is black, a fact known to showbiz enthusiasts) churned out retort after retort. Indeed, who gets to use the “n” word with impunity? Is it really OK if blacks use it among themselves but not if whites use it to refer to blacks?
Certainly, discussing this word brings out old resentments, defensiveness, and vulnerability, considering the history of black slavery in this country and the subsequent fight for civil rights in the 1960s. We know about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., and we now have a biracial President in Barack Obama whose black father was Kenyan and whose white mother was from Kansas. Education became the fighting tool for African-Americans to attain upward social mobility. Case in point: we now have Obama, a Harvard-educated black man occupying the most powerful position in the entire world. In general, as a result of higher education, people of color are now in positions of influence. However, we could certainly use more representation in the three branches of our government in order to more accurately reflect the changing demographics. By the year 2050, it is generally posited that the USA would have become a minority-majority country, where the non-whites/minorities would then comprise more than 51% of the population. Right now, the fastest rising segment of the American landscape is that of Latino Americans.
Bringing the discussion closer to home now, what are the implications of these for us Filipino-Americans? I’m sure that if I ask each of you, you can tell me a tale or two of how you have been discriminated against because of the color of your skin or even your accent. Even so, being the long-suffering and congenial people that we are, we probably just let these ethnic slurs slide. Remember, the Spaniards called us “indios” (“uneducated, dirty, dark-skinned natives”) during their 377-year colonization of the Philippines and it took us until 1896 to finally stage a revolution against their injustices. On the flipside, maybe we as Filipinos are also guilty of our own ethnophaulisms directed against “the other,” anyone who is different from us.
Racial, ethnic, or social slurs are used because we are fearful or ignorant of the unknown. From one or a few negative experiences we may have had with people from a different ethnicity, we develop stereotypes or generalized ideas about a group of people. These stereotypes or preconceived notions lead to biases, a mental state arising from the previous, which lead to prejudices, where we directly act upon our biases. This perpetuates the cycle of unenlightened social relations among people from different cultures. As long as these negative factors are in play, we cannot move on to increased multicultural awareness, tolerance, mutual understanding, and acceptance even among the peoples of what we consider multicultural America. However, like my PSCN 13 professor says, “If stereotypes are learned, then we must assume they can be unlearned through education, awareness, and interpersonal experiences.”
Let me propose a three-pronged approach toward minimizing our prejudicial attitudes and stereotypes, taking my cues from Juan Gonzales’ book, “Racial and Ethnic Groups in America (2nd edition, Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1993)”:
1. Let us work on diminishing the rigidity of our thinking.
2. Let us educate ourselves about racial and ethnic differences.
3. Let us be willing to accept those who are different from ourselves.
Truly, we need a new mindset of inclusiveness to keep up with the evolving diversity of our country. I’m hoping that it’s not yet too late for “us” to expand our capacity to at least develop a tolerant attitude towards “them,” from whatever ethnicity “they” are. But if we find that we’re already fairly set in our adult ways, then at least “teach your children well” (Crosby Stills Nash Young). We’ve observed how name calling and negative labeling already exists as early as preschool or kindergarten in this country. Where do they get their racial insults and ethnic taunts? To be so young and already so hurtful – surely there must be a way to reverse this trend.
We are the adults in their lives. We should know better and teach them from our place of knowing. As we celebrate Black History Month with our black sisters and brothers, may we recognize the commonalities of our respective struggles against various oppressors along the corridors of time. What we do with our freedom is surely for us to determine, but let us err on the side of good karma by not being oppressors ourselves and by fighting for the right of all people to be valued and heard in our multicultural American society.