100 years ago today: Othering and diminishment

Trigger Warning: Quotations of language/imagery that is racially offensive

One hundred years ago today the University Missourian (Columbia, Missouri) ran the following article on the front page:
Head: Cinders Cause Suit
SubHead: Negro Woman Asks $300 Because Wabash Trains Soil Washing.

Emmeline Williams is not only identified in the subhead as a \”Negro Woman\” in the very first line of the article we are told that she is \”a negress.\” In the second paragraph of the same article she is referred to as \”Emmeline\” without an honorific and with no last name.

The article, which is a roundup of the various cases currently before the court, next moves on to the story of \”William Miller, a negro\” who is later referred to as \”Tude, as he is known in Columbia.\”

No one on the page is identified as \”white\” and no one not identified as \”negro\” is referred to only by their first name or not given an honorific on their first mention.

These are, no doubt, \”little\” things but it says much of what life was like for African-Americans that no matter what they did their \”racial identity\” was given as automatically as honorifics were given to whites and that the small dignities of life were accorded to white men and women but not African Americans.


3 thoughts on “100 years ago today: Othering and diminishment

  1. So I was looking up a Langston Hughes quote a few days ago for Slacktivist, and you know how one poem leads to another:In Explanation of Our TimesThe folks with no titles in front of their namesall over the worldare raring up and talking backto the folks called Mister.You say you thought everybody was called Mister?No, son, not everybody.In Dixie, often they won't call Negroes Mister.In China before what happenedThey had no intention of calling coolies Mister.Dixie to Singapore, Cape Town to Hong Kongthe Misters won't call lots of other folks Mister.They call them, Hey George!Here, Sallie!Listen, Coolie!Hurry up, Boy!And things like that.George Sallie Coolie Boy gets tired sometimes.So all over the world todayfolks with not even Mister in front of their namesare raring up and talking backto those called Mister.From Harlem past Hong Kong talking back.Shut up, says Gerald L.K. Smith.Shut up, says the Governor of South Carolina.Shut up, says the Governor of Singapore.Shut up, says Strydom.Hell no shut up! say the peoplewith no titles in front of their names.Hell no! It's time to talk back now!History says it's time,And the radio, too, foggy with propagandathat says a mouthfuland don't mean half it says–but is true anyhow:LIBERTY!FREEDOM!DEMOCRACY!True anyhow no matter how manyLiars use those words.The people with no titles in front of their nameshear these words and shout them backat the Misters, Lords, Generals, Viceroys,Governors of South Carolina, Gerald L. K. Strydoms.Shut up, people!Shut up! Shut up!Shut up, George!Shut up, Sallie!Shut up, Coolie!Shut up, Indian!Shut up, Boy!George Sallie Coolie Indian Boyblack brown yellow bent down workingearning riches for the whole worldwith no title in front of namejust man woman tired says:No shut up!Hell no shut up!So naturally there's troublein these our timesbecause of people with no titlesin front of their names.—-Sixty-odd years later, some of the Misters have learned at least surface courtesy, and some of the Lords and Governors have been superseded by the CEOs. But if things keep going the way they seem to be going, I think it's time for some determined \”raring up and talking back.\”

  2. Oh, great Langston Hughes. I didn't know that one. He captures exactly what I was trying to get across. (Much better than I, of course.) It is amazing to go back and actually look at and listen to things instead of reading/hearing \”about\” them. The total air of derision in any article about African-Americans is palpable.And I wonder about William Miller (known as 'Tude') who was carrying weapons. Maybe he had an attitude about not being called mister and maybe his children and grandchildren were brought up to do something about it.

  3. Well, that's what poets are for. They're the ones who know how to find exactly the right words.Of course, nowadays it seems that nobody has titles in front of their names. Everybody's on a first-name basis face-to-face, everybody is last-name-only in the newspaper. (That's how I knew that time was passing, when the stories about \”Clinton\” were suddenly referring to a different person.) Makes it easier to assume equality, I guess, but maybe also to hide the inequalities?You're right about how startling it can be to read those old materials, though– especially the relatively recent ones. We expect the world of Austen or Dickens to be very different from ours, but I recently read a couple of mysteries written in the late 1960s– recognizably my times, yet some of the casual assumptions of those times seem shocking now. For the \”TARDIS in the library,\” sometimes the shortest trips are the most disconcerting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s