Conversation with Rev. Hopeton Scott

Citation Information: A Conversation with Rev. Hopeton Scott. The interview with Reverend Scott took place at the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, Connecticut, on November 11, 1998.

A conversation with Rev. Hopeton Scott, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, CT. Reverend Scott spoke about racial acceptance in America.

I wouldn’t define acceptance by political power, culture or the military. When a racial or ethnic group is accepted, then the negative stereotypes that have defined the group no longer define them. Stereotypes are now taboo. Acceptance says, ” they’re us”, and the group is then treated in a manner like those who were always inside. When stereotypes are no longer acceptable, that translates in to the concrete, equal access to the benefits of the culture without reservations or conditions.

You can see that the Irish are accepted because it is no problem for an Irish American to run for office in a non-Irish section. There are no restrictions in occupations or positions. Irish Americans’ loyalty to the whole is no longer questioned. When the Irish were outsiders, others were suspicious of their loyalty to the community, for example when there was suspicion of JFK’s (John F. Kennedy, first Irish American Catholic elected U.S. president) loyalty to the pope. No one today would question Irish Catholics’ loyalty to America versus an ideology.

People are aware of being politically correct, but behind closed doors the culture continues to feed on stereotypes of African Americans. Jokes continue about African Americans as lazy, dumb persons. The popular media no longer portray all Irish as drunks with a brogue, nor all Italians as members of the Mafia. What was a particularity to a specific group becomes simply a category for any group. No English ethnicity is visible. When a joke is made about an accepted group, there’s no meanness in the laughter, people recognize that it’s fictitious. Television continues to show African Americans as different. The number of roles as policemen and law enforcers portrayed by African Americans reflects a view of them as outsiders.

I’m not sure African Americans will ever be accepted. Two reasons: Color is visible. No other heritage is visible. When the majority of Americans are no longer white, maybe this will change.

The Irish could change their names, drop their brogues. They could make some change and hide. Many Irish masked their heritage. They altered their status. They didn’t give their children Irish names. And the other reason is Economics. As long as most African Americans are at the lower rung of the ladder, class will always be a factor for those who have made it. I see a split in the African American community between those who become successful and then forget the discrimination used against others.

When a black person shows evidence of success and leadership, he may be given privilege. He’s then considered the exception. White people who know me as a minister, say, “You’re different. You’re not like the rest of them.” I’m often stopped by police then let go with an apology. “Sorry, Reverend. We didn’t know it was you.” This kind of acceptance by exception neuters me and reinforces the prevailing stereotypes about people of color.

Progress is being made. I think you can assess progress by looking at the popular media, leadership realms, as in politics and business, and the presence of blacks in roles that were previously off limits. In the popular media, some stereotypes are still perpetuated, like the loud foolish black man, and the angry black man who has internalized hate. Cities and towns have elected and appointed a black official where the majority of the population wasn’t African American, and the same is true of some police chiefs. There was a time when there were no black quarterbacks. Now how many are there? How many black men now play on college teams?

What causes the change? Change is forced by the market place onto white Americans. Supply and demand are part of the change. Excellence is often a driving force. One makes a choice. He says, ” I need to choose excellence over race.” As you look at the pool of available talent, race is no longer a factor. Race used to say, “can’t hire”. Race criteria goes when standards change, excellence rather than race.

I think Irish Americans seldom invite African Americans into their personal lives. I attended the funeral of a prominent Irish American politician. I looked around and realized that I was the only black person there. I was surprised to be so singular. I think the mourners were as surprised to see me there.

The interview with Reverend Scott took place at the First Baptist Church on 11/6/98. Permission to reproduce material was from the conversation was graciously given by Reverend Scott.