African-American stereotypes

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Sun May 27 14:54:12 UTC 2007

Darla Wells asked:

"I am looking for the source of the generalization about African-Americans
being afraid of dogs and the other one is the inner city cliche about the
young African-American male being an endangered species. The first one was
something people used to say in North Louisiana when I was growing up and I
have heard it since then in Texas and around the country..."

A white woman of my acquaintance named Bonnie Dalzell raised Borzois (Russian wolfhounds.  For a time in the early 1970's she lived in a less-than-genteel integrated neighborhood in Washington DC (I don't know which area it was).  She told me that her black neighbors were afraid of her dogs, and said the reason was a memory carried down from slavery dogs of slaveowners using dogs to track down runaways and to control slaves.  I believe her to be a fair-minded individual who was reporting an observation, not someone who was making a deprecating remark about African-Americans.

Slightly off-topic:  about "slum" and "ghetto" and cetera:
"Slum" (noun) simply means any area of low-quality housing and high population density.  Implications about the quality of people living in a slum are optional, e.g. the average white American who speaks of "the slums of Calcutta" is probably NOT generalizing about the people who live there, just about their housing and economic conditions.  However the gerund "slumming" is metaphorical.  While it can mean a visit to a physical slum, it generally means to visit people whom the visitor considers beneath his/her dignity or social level.

"Ghetto" in contemporary usage has a quite different meaning than "slum".  A ghetto is an area in which due to law or social pressure people of a specific ethnic group are forced to live.  A ghetto is not necessarily a slum, although many are.  By the way, "inner-city ghetto" is not a redundant term.  When I was growing up in Louisville KY there was a neighborhood called "Newburg" which was a 100% African-American neighborhood.  Rather than being inner-city, it was in outer suburbia, and probably was in a rural area when it first came into being.  (I suspect it arose because it was near a large General Electric plant which must have hired African-Americans who decided to live nearby.)  I was in Newburg only once in my life, giving a ride to someone who lived there, and I can report that this person's street consisted of small but neatly-maintained freestanding houses.  However, this one street was all of Newburg that I ever observed, so I can't generalize.

Therefore a ghetto need not be a slum, and an integrated slum is not a ghetto.

Interesting:  in New York City around 1900 neighborhoods with low-quality housing and large Jewish populations were not called "slums" but rather "tenements", although strictly speaking a "tenement" is (and has been since the Roman Empire) a building rather than a neighborhood.

    - James A. Landau

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