November 23, 2009
As there isn’t enough turmoil in the land of my ancestors — well, some of them, anyway — a popular Lebanese singer has stirred the stew by including a derogatory reference to Nubian people in the lyric of a children’s song. I won’t go into what the lyric says, but it’s described in a story in the English-language newspaper in Beirut, and that story is right HERE.
Reading that story in the Daily Star sent me on a search for the Nubians, with whom I was not familiar. I found out that the term describes more than two million black people who are concentrated in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. They are one of our links to antiquity, because they have preserved culture and tradition that dates from the beginning of civilization.
Stumbling across the reference to these people and the information available about them reminded me of an experience we once had while flying to California. On the plane with us were a group of people in rural dress who had coal-black skin and who spoke to each other in a language we were sure we had never heard. When we surmised that one white man was with that party, we asked him about them, and he told us they were aboriginal artists from Australia who were on a world tour with an exhibition of their work. That encounter made us so conscious of how diverse the world is and how little we know about the many kinds of people who compose what we call humanity.
So, too, now with the Nubians. The Daily Star quoted a fellow named Motez Isaaq, who represents the Committee for Nubian Issues: “We are one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. Instead, our image is constantly perpetuated as the uneducated doorman or waiter.” Isaaq gave Wahbe the benefit of the doubt by saying her lyric was offensive even though she may not have intended it to be. And he added, according to the Star’s paraphrase, “that stereotypes of minorities are so entrenched that referring to them in popular culture media is frequently done unconsciously.” How sad and how discouraging, particularly since Wahbe, whether consciously or not, addressed her bias to children.
February 28, 2009
I see by the papers that the Nebraska Supreme Court came down on the side of common sense this week by upholding the dismissal of a state police officer who joined a branch of the Ku Klux Klan. The subject of the ruling, Robert Henderson, joined the Knights Party in 2004 and resigned in 2006. He joined in the first place because his wife left him for a Latino man. Henderson, I gather, was not a student of logic. His defense contends that the court has brushed aside Henderson’s First Amendment rights – an interesting argument to make on behalf of a man whose own view of other folks’ rights is, to put it mildly, suspect. That, of course, wouldn’t justify mitigating his citizenship, but the state’s position isn’t that Henderson couldn’t belong to the Klan, but that he couldn’t belong to the Klan and be a sworn law-enforcement officer. Presumably, Nebraska also wouldn’t want a police officer to join a group that promotes pedophilia. The objection from his defense that Henderson strictly kept his racial views to himself while he was on duty somehow isn’t reassuring. One would rather that Henderson wore his hood on duty so that a black or Latino motorist stopped on a dark stretch of highway would know what and whom he was dealing with. This case isn’t done, and it might wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court where an argument either way from Justice Thomas could make for compelling reading.