Enough with The Labels Already

If You Feel Uncomfortable Saying What You Really Mean Perhaps You Should Stay Silent.

There has been a lot of controversy over the years about how certain ethnic groups should be labeled. Africans, Ethiopians, Negros, Coloreds, Blacks, African Americans. Different terms used to describe the same group of people. There are of course other labels that are universally considered insulting and unacceptable. No one wants to be called a nigger, a coon, or a porch monkey. Yet there are many words that are just as damaging to our community that everybody just accepts.

The easiest way to give a word a negative connotation is to associate it with low income black people, also known as inner city residents.

The term inner city should not have any racial connotation, but it does. Inner city is always just a polite way of saying “place full of broke ass niggers that we look down on.” Using the term inner city that way doesn’t make much sense. The United States is at least 70 percent white and most large American cities are at least 40 percent white with sizable populations of Latinos and Asians as well.

The term inner city is basically just a substitute for the word ghetto. This word has no business being applied to African Americans either. It started in Germany when the Jewish people were confined to certain areas. Ethnic enclaves in the U.S. were also described as ghettos during waves of immigration. Somehow it became applied to blacks, and now largely refers to poor African-American areas that are stereotyped as dangerous.

It doesn’t stop with inner city and ghetto. Another label we get stuck with is “the hood.” The term is obviously just short for “neighborhood,” but many people perceive being from the hood as some sort of problem to be overcome.

Sometimes words suddenly acquire a negative connotation. The word “entitlement” has a very clear denotation; if someone is entitled to something that means they’re supposed to get it. People in a variety of situations are entitled to certain things. I’ve seen so many people get upset about Social Security being called an entitlement program when that is exactly what it is. People who have worked for 40 or more years and are now retired are entitled to a social security check. There is nothing wrong with that. The negative connotation comes from other entitlement programs such as food stamps. Some people have a problem with assistance because they think it makes people lazy or that it causes people to feel that they are entitled not to starve.

The real reason government leaders don’t like entitlement programs is because they cannot control the budget. They have to give the benefits to whoever is entitled to receive them which means the worse the economy is the more they have to spend on these programs. Section 8 on the other hand isn’t really an entitlement program because they can put you on a never ending waiting list until more funding becomes available.

Even though all these terms have been drilled into my head since I was a child, I’m still skeptical about the concept of a bad neighborhood. I know that it’s common knowledge that I live in an area with a high crime rate, but I’m 41 years old and I’ve never been a victim of crime here in my own neighborhood. The worst crime I experienced personally was when I lived in Maui. When I walk down the street and pass my neighbors sitting on their porches walking their dogs and doing yard work, I have no reason to think that they are a bunch of murderers, robbers and drug dealers.

There was a time, of course, when I was a teenager in the early 90’s when drug dealers did seem quite plentiful. But not every D boy you saw standing around on Kinsman lived in the inner city. Some of them lived in Shaker Heights.

Americans have the idea firmly in their minds that public schools are supposed to be bad, especially if they are located in large cities.

My oldest child attends MC2 Stem. He is in 10th grade taking biology, Geometry, American History and Engineering. He already took Physics, Chinese and Computer Science last year. His School Robotics team won an international championship in 2016. His school received an Excellence in Secondary Education Award from the alliance for Excellent Education. Many of the students there have done internships that led to employment with major companies like General Electric. My eighth grader goes to Campus International. Many of his Classmates live in suburbs such as Cleveland Heights, Lyndhurst and even Mentor.

Three years ago, when I decided to move out of my cramped basement apartment in Shaker Heights, my favorite cousin criticized me for moving on 153rd because Cleveland’s schools were bad. But this past year she pulled her daughter out of Cleveland Heights schools and enrolled her in a charter school at 36th and Superior. She considered sending her to Campus International, but it was full. They didn’t change the name from Cleveland Public Schools to Cleveland Metropolitan School District for no reason.

From the book Cleveland Stories: Vol 1 anthology.