An organ of the American Institute of International Studies (AIIS), Fremont, CA

Current_Issue_Nregular_1_1 Archives
Your_comments Legal

Your donation
is tax deductable.

Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

Syed Mahmood book
Front page title small

Journal of America encourages independent
thinking and honest discussions on national & global issues


Disclaimer and Fair Use Notice: Many articles on this web site are written by independent individuals or organizations. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Journal of America and its affiliates. They are put here for interest and reference only. More details

August 1, 2013

America: Are we defined by color or race?

By Mertze Dahlin

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman! Who hasn’t followed the saga of the trial during July, 2013, which had no meaningful outcome – no matter what way the result was. 

Black families could hardly believe the result – to make it even stranger; neither could any ‘aware’ white person – a white man was allowed to go free after killing a Black youth. The jury could not come to the decision it felt was correct in their hearts because of some obnoxious law that lent itself to protecting the perpetrator. This was assuming he has some position of power or access to a second meaning of the law which provides the loophole to provide for his defense. It was that loophole which the jury was bound to adhere to and they had no other route to pursue. The entire event was so apparently wrong that even President Obama had to make his comment about it. He surmised that it could have been himself thirty five years ago.

Had the jury ignored the judge’s instructions and found George Zimmerman guilty, they themselves would be admonished for violating their instructions and a new trial with new jurors would likely be demanded.

 How is it that there continues to be such animosity to anyone who is recognized as Black? Does only he know, or what about those who have not experienced living among Blacks. What is it that occurs to develop that feeling? While it is a fact that, for example, due to unequal living conditions, or simply uneven economics, that situation could drive some young Blacks, or anyone who “gets the short end of the stick”, to try to equalize his position in life by an act of robbery or even violence by making the seemingly better-off person pay the price by being subdued by him. He gains public recognition if he is caught and feels superior at least for that moment. The entire neighborhood, or for that matter the entire range of the publication or radio broadcast now knows, as the media tells it, what that kind of person will do, and thus development of the stereotype begins.

 There are people who see and hear of this kind of behavior nearly every day of their lives. If they live in areas where ethnically diverse people live and the job market may be picky and choosy about who will be hired, it may be that the Black will not be hired and he then can only commiserate with his similarly disadvantaged friends. The outsider of this group can feel the resentment and he takes steps to prevent himself from being on the receiving end of their possible hostilities. He decides to be afraid and warns his friends and family what he supposes could happen. This often seems to become the underlying feeling whenever a white person comes in close contact with an unfamiliar Black person. He thinks that it must be true because ‘we saw it on television’ or read it in the newspaper.

Liveing away from the city

 When one lives away from the city, he may never experience an unpleasant meeting with an Afro-American. He should even try to use that term to describe the person because it sounds so neutral and would not be as offensive if he used almost any other existing noun to describe the Black person.

 Some people still have heard about or interpreted what they read in the newspaper about the things they are told to be afraid of in the event of actually meeting with or be otherwise confronted by an unfamiliar Black person. When your home is really far from a city that Blacks also live, the race element is far from your mind. What you read in a newspaper may or may not be true, but no matter, it has little to do with rural folks. The “country folks” were somehow protected from the supposed reality of city life and many never did know of the “other world” of America, nor could they care.

 America has had land-locked, country areas sometimes sparsely populated such as in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Because few other people were interested in coming there, it didn’t grow very much and was devoid of any racial mixture back in the 1930’s. As in other remote areas, this was the only place in America that we were familiar with; we knew there were places that were vastly different such as Hollywood, the mountain states, and big cities like Chicago and New York, but they were only different because of their ‘Grandeur’. My Grandfather came here from the “old country” and decided this was where he wanted to live as did many others from Finland and Sweden. His children, including my Father and similarly my Mother, were born and lived nearly their entire life in this same town where they were born. I also was born and raised in that same town of Ironwood. Since we were in a relatively remote area of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we saw very few people from other parts of the United States.

 I had a patriotic Uncle, or maybe he just wanted a job that wasn’t cutting trees or going underground to mine iron-ore, who decided to join the army before the war back in 1938. He saw fit that he should invite me to come and visit him in New York City while he was on furlough. Then, at eight years old, I was placed on the train bound for New York. I was now seeing my part of the world as I had never even imagined it. I arrived at Grand Central Station in New York City. There was nobody around that I knew. A Negro city or train employee of some sort came to comfort me and talked to me – during that time, my Uncle arrived and thanked the man who was with me. I had seen Negro porters on the train so I was getting used to it. Then this man actually talked with me, by now they seemed like real people, not just characters that I would read about later in a book.

Newspapers and movies

 During the war years, 1941-1945, the newspapers and movies kept us informed about the rest of the 48 states and some of the world, but we never really took a chance to see it first-hand. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t know about people of other ethnicities, we had our Italian neighbors (Dagos) and Polish neighbors (Polacks) and we were mostly Finns and quite a few Swedes. To learn about anybody else, there was a very good Carnegie library in town. That’s where we found books such as “Little Black Sambo”, “Tom Sawyer”, “Uncle Tom’s cabin” and a book about the famous George Washington Carver. So from these and other typical books on that subject, we learned “all about the Negroes” in America. This was also how we learned of the yellow race, red race, brown race and black race as different from the white race. Little did we know that there was more to learn than what was in a book. (The “other world” now is farther away but still remained as only text pages of a book).

 Once in a while, we could go a step further by bicycling down to the railway station and look for the train conductor who would wave his lantern to the engineer and shout “All Aboard” to the people who needed to get on the train to travel somewhere. We stood as close as we dared so as not to get in his way and looked very carefully at his features and the color of his skin. This was an actual Negro!

I would venture to say that not all young people from rural areas of America were as naive as several of us from my part of the state, but we all had a lot to learn.

 In my late high school years (1948-1950), we lived in Oakland, California; where of course people of all ethnicities lived. Following high school, Uncle Sam decided I need to be in the Army (since Korea was the issue at that time), where I met an Afro-American who bunked next to me. He was one who did not have the typical “southern drawl”, as many Negroes did at that time. After asking him about that, he told me that he was educated, which, apparently he thought was the necessary ingredient to talk without an accent. Likely, as I felt, he did not grow up in a “colored” neighborhood and didn’t feel it was necessary to try to have a southern accent.

It was common that some years ago (in the 1930’s and 1940’s), many cities grew up with their mixture of ethnic neighborhoods such as Italian, Irish, Polish, Scandinavian as well as Negro areas, and each developed their accented way of speaking and carried it with them wherever they moved.

 Many of the white people who grew up in the Southern – or South-Eastern United States had their built-in conception of their local colored people because it was likely a carry-over of the feeling during the days of slavery. It was a condition that continued from generation to generation and was definitely a feeling of class difference when the slaves were considered socially inferior or second class citizens. As these people migrated to other parts of the United States (as during WW II in the 1940’s), they carried their feelings about the colored people (often referred to by the N-word) with them from state to state and planted it in the minds of otherwise “regular” people. This resulted in limited job opportunities for the Afro-Americans because the class discrimination just continued even though “formal” slavery did no longer exist.

Some respite for the race issue

 There was some respite for the race issue because of WW II during the 1940’s, in that nearly all working-age people migrated to other areas in America where government/military manufacturing jobs were available or perhaps Uncle Sam took them into the Army. Separation of the races continued in the Army however, until during the Korean War, when our leaders were finally coming to their senses. By this time, most Americans were learning to live in “mixed” neighborhoods and were getting to know each other. There continued to be “Black” churches and “White” churches for a long time because church locations were not that easy to change.

 Those involved in inter-church activities and along with many involved in the advent of Islam in America, where race is not an issue, were instrumental in putting the race issue away. The feeling of “togetherness” is now a natural feeling, at least for those ‘so-involved’ as part of the ‘working together’ theme.

 Everyone has memories however, and it usually is reflected mostly with older folks. On the one hand, it is easy to say you are “color-blind”, but inside is the memory of “race riots”, especially during the 1960’s as may have been reported in newspapers or on the radio many years ago. Then there remains “color incidents” in local schools that was broadcast on the radio or in the newspaper. These media reports continue to influence or prejudice how we think in generalizations and stereotype any group of people – especially African-Americans.

 As “normalization” of the color issue is going away and we try to create examples of this phenomenon of non-white elected people to public offices, it still is held out as race issues by proclaiming that “look here”, we now have a first “Black” or first “Asian” in one of our public offices. Many of us would like to think that we elected each person according to his qualifications for the office. In the event that the person does not meet everybody’s expectations, those who were dissatisfied or voted according to color would say “see” – I told you so.

 Domestic and civil cases make the news these days whenever race is an issue. It can actually be true if a person of one race attacks one of another race and he did it according to his color as he may have held a long-standing prejudice against the other. His defense could easily be stated by saying he is “color-blind” – and that there were other plausible reasons for his action. A jury could as easily proclaim themselves also to be color-blind, and decide the case on the “plausible other reasons”, or they themselves would look at it from the color aspect. This will continue as long as we continue to identify people by their color and not by their character.

 One can see this real “other” world by looking at any of several countries on this earth. A close example I would think of is nearly any country in South America. A rainbow of hues is bestowed on the people in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and the entire area. Everyone seems to work together, live together and have good times together. Another obvious area is in North Africa where people are judged by their behavior, qualifications and accomplishments. As we meet and greet visitors from this “other” world, we notice their character and beliefs and ideas more and more and it begins to assimilate within our own character. But as of today, perhaps it can only be expressed as by a small percentage.

 Mertze Dahlin is the Managing Editor:of the Journal of America.