PERSONA NON GRATA: someone who is not welcome

persona non grata

It may be hard to believe that the talented Gloria Estefanwas declared an  “undesirable”  by a nation.   Her talent and beauty are sought after throughout the world.

But the Cuban native was told by the government of Cuba that she was a persona non grata because of what they perceived to be political views that went against the principles espoused by Cuba.  It must be very difficult for this globally-honored performer to be unable to sing before her relatives and friends in Cuba (so far, anyway.)   There is hope that with the changes coming to the people of that isolated Communist country, the day may be coming when the ban on her re-entry will be more favorably received.

The persona non grata is affixed to people who, for one reason or another,  are deemed “undesirable.   It may be the political issues of a country or a bias such as gender or race by others.  In the days prior to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, persons of color were not allowed admission to public (or private) buildings in some parts of this country.  There are some today who speak of people of Middle Eastern heritage as being persona non grata in communities, states, or even this country.   The fear of terrorism is inappropriately placed upon  Muslims.  In some parts of the U.S., Native Americans are treated similarly.

Perhaps the most insidious employment of the term, however, is in the personal rejections of individuals or groups of individuals within communities.   Some fraternities and sororities  employ the ancient practice of “blackball” through which an anonymous person can block the admission of a person … without having to explain themself.

The former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island took a secret absence from her office for a period of time, and with the help of a professional make-up artist, impersonated a street person for a period of time. She speaks eloquently of the times she was excluded from groups …  including Churches …during that period.  Her clothing, lack of cleanliness, and demeanor were unwelcome in the various places she “tested out.”  She was a persona  non grata even in her own parishes (for the most part) when she arrived for services.

It is a phrase that conjures up all the negativity and  immorality of rejection and exclusivity that exists in our society.   Is it any wonder that periods erupt when racism  shows itself on the stage of American communities, both urban and rural?


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