Rusty DePass, a prominent long-time South Carolina Republican, has shown his true colors. He recently posted the following comment about an escaped gorilla in Columbia: â€œI’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors; probably harmless.â€ That’s right, First Lady Michelle Obama. He went on to say: â€œThe comment was hers, not mine,â€ claiming that she made a recent remark about humans having apes for ancestors. Media conglomerates with multi-million-dollar resources have yet to find the comment allegedly made by the First Lady. Such wretched reasoning has been codified, exemplified, and memorialized in the pages of supposedly impeccable literary works. Here’s the substance of what I wrote about the words â€œgorillaâ€ and â€œmiscegenationâ€ nearly fifteen years ago in my book, Wicked Words: Poisoned Mindsâ€”Racism in the Dictionary. As you will see, not much has changed:
Gorilla (1853) â€œbelieved to be the name of an alleged African tribe of hairy women.â€ (Websterâ€™s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) â€œGorillaâ€ is indeed, a Greek word. A more detailed history of this word is worth our investigation. For starters, the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia says gorillas were â€œa tribe of hairy women, perhaps of African origin.â€ This word eventually took on a scientific flavor thanks to a white American, Dr. Thomas S. Savage. He used the Greek classics and Greek literature to link the gorilla with black women. This scientific influence lends a type of pseudo-validation to the thought that gorillas and black women are somehow scientifically connected.
For those of you who may have noticed that the word â€œallegedâ€ is used (as in â€œan alleged African tribe of hairy womenâ€), be advised that it didnâ€™t appear in the definition of an earlier version. In the 1973 version of Websterâ€™s New Collegiate Dictionary the definition of â€œgorillaâ€ reads: â€œAn African tribe of hairy women.â€ The Oxford English Dictionary makes sure we donâ€™t confine our understanding of the word â€œgorillaâ€ to primarily black women. It adds: â€œA person who resembles a gorilla.â€ Since gorillas are outwardly dark, could they possibly mean a big black man?
Whatâ€™s really being said here is, â€œweâ€™re not just talking about your mother, your sister, your aunt, your female cousin, your wife, your sister-in-law, your daughter, and your daughter-in-law; weâ€™re calling you a gorilla too, black man.â€ This definition, as it is, is both brutal and monstrous. Demonstrating that this isnâ€™t just an emotional overreaction, in September 1993, American telecommunications giant AT&T printed an offensive cartoon in its employee magazine, Focus. It depicted a caller on each continent of the earth, all human, except for Africa, which had (as you may have guessed by now) a gorilla standing on it.
The Washington Post, in its September 17, 1993, issue carried an apology for AT&T in the form of an article entitled, â€œAT&T Apologizes for Racist Illustration.â€ However, the fact that the Focus article appeared in the first place is a sad commentary on the insensitive nature of even â€œresponsibleâ€ corporate giants in American society. (NOTE: What Websterâ€™s Tenth says is even more insulting then the previous edition. It defines â€œgorillaâ€ as â€œa tribe of hairy women mentioned in an account of a voyage around Africa.â€ At one time, the Bronx Zoo caged an African like a gorilla.)
Miscegenation: (1864) â€œa mixture of races; esp[ecially]. Marriage or cohabitation between a white person and a member of another race.â€ â€”Websterâ€™s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
This definition isnâ€™t entirely honest. What â€œmiscegenationâ€ really means is marriage (or even just sex!) between a white person and a black person. Oh, by the way, â€œmis-â€ means â€œbad,â€ so, â€œmiscegenationâ€ literally means â€œbad race mixing.â€
At one time, it was even against the law for a white person to marry a black person. Certain Southern states of the U.S. enacted miscegenation laws that prevented this from happening. In fact, in 1924, urged on by white supremacists, legislators prohibited whites from marrying anyone with â€œa single drop of Negro blood,â€ according to the February 13, 1995 issue of Newsweek. And as recently as June 1967, the state of Virginia had a law on its books prohibiting blacks and whites from marrying. And as late as the 1950s the law was used to keep a â€œsalt and pepperâ€ married couple out of the state. Thankfully, the Supreme Court overturned this racist state law.
Instead of giving a full disclosure of these facts, a conspiracy of silence is being perpetrated by a white racist, male-dominated, literary world. The American Heritage Dictionary goes along with this charade. As mentioned earlier, â€œmiscegenationâ€ also means sex between a black person and a white person. Notice what the Oxford English Dictionary says under â€œmiscegenationâ€: â€œMixture of races; esp[ecially] the sexual union of whites with Negroes.â€ It goes on to mention a book printed in 1864 entitled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races which â€œapplied to the American White Man and Negro.â€ Major dictionaries dance around the real meaning behind â€œmiscegenation.â€
The Bible says: â€œA soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.â€ More recently, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, â€˜you canâ€™t legislate whatâ€™s in a manâ€™s heart.â€™ Unfortunately, though, a racist can legislate what is in his heart and even incorporate it in the dictionary.
Complex social issues involving race relations in the U.S. confound the best political minds modern-day society has to offer. The quarreling and quandaries continue. In democratic societies, voting is often a choice between the lesser of two evils. Justice and fairness are distressingly infrequent. Even the best political systems are flawed.
Despite these realities, we can enjoy a measure of happiness, even under these circumstances. Have we ever been happy in our lives? If any of us has, this proves that a measure of happiness is possible, irrespective of the inequities of an imperfect society. Stay up. Stay strong. Keep the faith. God bless. Amen.Â Â
Dr. Firpo Carr n can be reached at 800.501.2713 orÂ firstname.lastname@example.org.