By Loretta Johnson

I wish I had a dollar for each time I’ve witnessed someone vexed by the sound of immigrants/”foreigners” speaking in their mother tongues.  Many of those expressing this vexation being Black, I’m especially disturbed. Come on people! Have we forgotten? This attitude so closely mirrors the treatment our forefathers received when forcibly brought to this continent. Are we suffering from some kind of mass Stockholm Syndrome?

For those who don’t know, Stockholm Syndrome is the phenomenon of those held captive to sympathize with, subsequently taking on the mindset of their captors. The term first came into my lexicon in 1974 when heiress Patty Hearst (granddaughter of 19th-century media mogul William R. Hearst) was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army.  Following her rape and torture, she began taking on the political and criminal sensitivities of the SLA, even assisting in their bank robberies. By the way – when caught by the FBI – she received a 35-year prison sentence which was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter after serving two years.

Whenever I witness anyone (especially a Black person) criticizing anyone holding a private conversation in their native tongue, chiding them to “speak English”, I feel deep hurt.  Don’t they know that that is exactly the treatment our forefathers were given when forced to come here some generations ago? Do they not remember the punishment foisted on Kunta Kinte and others for refusing to accept European names and mores in the miniseries “Roots”?  We were stripped of what most people consider to be among the basest of rights – to keep our own names and communications amongst our own people.

And, let’s take a special look at Spanish and Native American speaking people. Have people forgotten that they were here long before Europeans! They did not cross over the border.  The border crossed them! Furthermore, how dare any of us stick our noses in the private conversations of anyone and complain that they’re not speaking English when they’re not even speaking to us!?!

Back to Patty Hearst.  Every time we scoff at Spanish, African or even the many Eastern Europeans who’ve come to our shores and choose to exercise their right to speak in the tongues in which they are comfortable, we are actually falling into what I see as a form of Stockholm Syndrome, reacting towards them just as the slave-makers of old did to our forefathers.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here