Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007

Celebrate diversity in Prince George’s without attacking residents

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Pursuant to my normal Saturday morning routine, I picked up The Star newspaper as I waited for a haircut at the neighborhood barbershop. Browsing the Community Forum section of the newspaper, I came across the letter titled, ‘‘Prince Georgians who aren’t black don’t get enough credit for contributions to the county” [Letters to the Editor, July 12].

As a result of the author’s gross misunderstanding of the term ‘‘African-American” and the misguided statement that ‘‘blacks continuously play the race card by calling themselves African Americans, and the media buys into this,” I feel compelled to reply to such inordinate thinking.

The term African American was coined in the 1980s from the need for Americans of African ancestry to establish a group identifier, one that reflects cultural pride and our historical roots. Previously, from the time period of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (i.e. African Holocaust) until the 1960s, black people in America and throughout the diaspora were labeled Negroes by ‘‘European Americans,” a dehumanizing term originally used by the Spaniards and Portuguese.

Furthermore, as it would be politically incorrect to identify Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, European Americans and many others by any physical characteristic, it is equally misguided to identify Americans of African ancestry simply by skin pigmentation. Therefore, the author’s assertion that the term ‘‘African American” is simply an attempt at ‘‘playing the race card” suggests a mental pathology that is remnant of the ‘‘good old boy days” that presumed the false notion of one group’s superiority over another.

Consistent with individuals [who] possess this type of mental pathology is the inability to comprehend that all people have the human right to identify themselves and to honor their cultural heritage, whether they are voluntary immigrants to America or descendants of enslaved Africans, which makes their lineage no less authentic.

‘‘Playing the race card” involves suggesting that an individual, system or institution is racially discriminatory. Therefore, looking at the historical meaning of this phrase, it reveals even further the depth of the author’s mental pathology. I wonder has the author equally accused Jewish Americans, Italian Americans, Chinese Americans and many others for using the ‘‘race card” for the usage of their cultural⁄heritage group identifiers? Also, have all individuals of the Chinese-American community been to China or every Italian-American community member been to Italy? If not, does this disqualify the connection to their historical roots (as the author attempts to hint with regard to African Americans who may or may not have set foot on African soil)?

Last, I would agree that there are good things happening in Prince George’s County, which are the results of contributions from a diverse segment of the population. However, as we attempt to highlight this fact, Prince Georgians should not attempt to gain recognition at the expense of denigrating others.

Os-Maun Rasul, Upper Marlboro