Language limits means to equality

Friday, July 6, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:54 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009
David Rosman writes a weekly opinion column for the Missourian.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made its decision. Race cannot be a factor in deciding how schools select which students may or may not attend. It is not really a reversal of Brown v. Board of Education, but it brings up an important point of language and our national attitude toward being an American.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Though the liberal (in which I claim membership) and the black communities fervently disagree with the decision, Justice Roberts may have opened a door to a new road to racial equality in our multiracial society.

I teach the class college students love to hate, Public Speaking. The class is more than giving a speech; it is a study of people. Students learn about themselves and others, ethics, the art of persuasion and argument, politics and language. There is no attempt to create a single “American” sound because there is no “typical American sound.” Even “American” in the middle of Middle America varies depending on if you live in the city or a farm.

We discuss the First Amendment’s recognition of the Freedom of Speech, name calling and labeling, intent versus perception and the derogatory language used for ethnicity, race, religion and heritage. We even discuss the “N” word and its origins. Knowledge is power over the insult.

Students learn that our descriptive language may also be harmful to the American psyche. Our descriptive language identifies our citizens first by heritage, religion, race or ethnicity before we identify our common citizenship, creating a society of “Us” versus “Them.”

I resent being called “white.” Someone in my church recognized that our congregation is, almost without exception, of European decent, in his words, “white.” I immediately rejected that comment and called to the congregation “I’m beige!” There was lot of nervous laughter but no one disagreed. We are all people of color. We may be Americans of many generations or newly minted, but Americans all the same. We are also all various tones of brown, not black or white. Language creates this false dichotomy.

Allow me to take this one step further. I am not a Jewish-American, a Euro-American, or a Polish-American. I am an American, who is Jewish by tradition, whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe, Poland. People with darker skin pigmentation are not African-Americans or Latin Americans, but Americans of mixed heritage, including European, aboriginal American (also immigrants) and African.

I argue that language does not cause hatred and segregation; it is the need to blame one’s misfortune or misguided acts on others. Someone must be at fault and it cannot be me, so it must be them, thus relinquishing our troubles and misfortunes to anyone who looks different, sounds different, believes different or acts different. Yet, we are all part of the American soul, a soul born of immigrants.

We are not a homogenous nation. Please tell me what an American looks like, sounds like or believes. You cannot, so why do we expect everyone to look, sound and believe like us when we cannot define “Us”?

I recognize that Americans, like many other nationalities, have discriminated because of race and ethnicity from the beginning of history, permanently imprinting an “us versus them” mentality. We know discrimination for any reason is wrong. Americans recognize that discrimination is unethical and immoral, and our great society has and is trying to make amends. Period.

I suggest that we stop identifying people by race, religion, gender and creed first. We need to recognize that we are all human. We must stop creating evil through language, walls of separation, blame and hatred. We are all born human first, Americans second. Adding other labels that create the false dichotomy of hatred are added because we are unwilling or unable to accept our own frailties. We need to point to ourselves before pointing at others.

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at

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Sara Green July 6, 2007 | 5:10 a.m.

You identify yourself as an American not a human being...that is racism too. Do you hold yourself above citizens of other countries? If you were taken out of America would you lose your identity?
This is an interesting article about the Identity of a Jew (which you say defines you only by tradition).

(Report Comment)
David Rosman July 6, 2007 | 7:35 p.m.

Ms. Green,

Unfortunately, this is not a discussion that can be limited within the confines of this format. Let me invite you to email me at and we can continue this conversation.

However, as not to disappoint others...

Within the context of your statement, you are somewhat correct that my views may appear contrary to that message, but one must think globally and act locally. However, the article deals more with than failure to take responsibility for one’s actions and using the schism of language to create discrimination. I talk about Humanism next week.

As to the article you refer to in your note; I find it interesting and am writing the author to receive some clarification before a completing response. I can say that there is a distinction between religion, race, nationality, language and ethnicity that is not touched within this article and not understood by many. To be “Jewish” defines a religion that, by tradition, is inherited through the maternal corridor of one’s family, as Christianity is passed through the paternal side. My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were Jewish; therefore, I am Jewish by that tradition.

I promise an explanatory article come Yom Kippur.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman July 10, 2007 | 8:14 a.m.

(I received this on my e-mail site and thought I would share... DR)

Oh Dave,

I think Ms. Green wishes to confiscate your party membership card!

I also think she confuses a knowledge of a superior doctrine with a belief in a superior race. My guess is that if you where taken out of America, you would not so much lose your identity, as you would long to return to celebrate it (just like the millions that annually vote with their feet).
I read the article she offered and attempted to tie it into yours. It reminded me of the same post-graduate work that went into the recent court decision determining the public display of a woman's breast is equivalent to that of a man's. The judge had spent so much time researching the arguments that he obviously hasn't seen a breast in quite a while. Ms. Green likewise has meandered so long in the study of racism that the simplistic notion uncovered by Chief Justice Roberts went right past her.

Take care,

(American first, loyal reader second)

(Report Comment)

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