Oh “Boy”

Josh Marshall, on a topic unrelated to what I’m about to talk about, produces what I think is a very sane concept when we look at our usage of language, and language’s potential to offend.

In cases such as this I think it is always crucial to distinguish in our own minds between what we find offensive and what we’ve been conditioned to believe that others will find offensive. And perhaps even more importantly, what others will be able to twist and distort into something that other people will find offensive

In other words, not every little thing that someone says is cause to be offended, that some terms and some assertions and some words are blatantly in the column of things that should never be said at all, and others inhabit a kind of gray area. Also, that context is important, just as the ability to remove context is important.

What this means is that sometimes the uproar of offense is little more than manufactured outrage and word parsing, and sometimes people really do cross the line. In the case of Obama, what we see is an intent to put forth an intellectual argument to understand how a segment of voters view their world and take that world view and use it in the voting booth. With Rep. Geoff Davis, on the other hand, we see something very very different.

“I’m going to tell you something: That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button,” Davis said. “He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country.”

“Boy.” Yeah, that’s not a good word to use, and for very good reason. It’s not on the same level as the n-word, but it’s in the same ball park.

You see, “boy,” is in fact a derogatory term, especially when we’re talking about a white man applying it to a grown black man. In case you didn’t know. It’s demeaning, a term used by white racists against black men to demean their social status, to negate their status as adults. It is one of the words used to subjugate adult black males, to clearly define that in the heirarchy of things, it does not matter if they are as old and wise as the speaker, they’re station will never increase above that of being a boy.

To say it is a racially insensitive term would be undercutting it. Nor can one say that we’re taking Davis out of context. His intent through the extended quote is intended to demean, it is intended to emphasize his lack of qualificiations, in this case, his inability to satisfactorily meet Davis’ subjective standards for decision making in the realm of National Defense.

Look, Barack Obama is a grown man. Whatever you may think of his experience or lack thereof, this is a man who is in his forties, who’s a lawyer, and a former professor of constitutional law, and he’s a US Senator. He is anything but a boy. Without the racial implications of the word, Davis’ labeling him as such is simply disgraceful and disrespectful.

As bad as that is, though, I find myself just as offended, if not more, by the remarks that Senator Mitch McConnell made in regards to Hillary Clinton:

As for Obama’s Democratic rival, McConnell said U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York seems to be “teetering on the brink.”

“I hear she hasn’t been this worried since a new Hooters opened” near her home with former President Bill Clinton, McConnell said, prompting laughs from the 400 Northern Kentucky Republicans.

Now, there have been a lot of accusations of both racism and sexism throughout this campaign, and I’ve disagreed with accusations on both side of the fence, but this is just terrible. It is a gross implication that the only thing that Hillary Clinton cares about is pleasing her man, or whether or not she can go on if he finds certain comforts elsewhere.

That’s just crap. Mrs. Clinton, in the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s infidelity with Monica Lewinsky, went on to run a successful Senatorial campaign and became an incredibly powerful first term Senator. She is not a stereotype to be mocked for her personal life.

Frankly, it’s just gross that Mitch McConnell wants to portray Clinton as someone who does nothing more than chase women away from her husband, and is “on the brink” because of it. Agree with her politics or not, agree with her position on the issues or not, the fact of the matter is that McConnell’s disgusting characterization of her is simply not the case.

All of this bears noting because as we Democrats hunt for ways to call each other racist and sexist, these guys are being pretty open about it…

…and they’re laughing about it too.

More from Memeorandum: The Caucus, Ben Smith’s Blogs, Right Wing Nut House (Suggests that this is going to affect the “bitter gaffe” will be interesting to see), QandO, Pandagon, The Raw Story, Balloon Juice (God I love John Cole’s snark. Had a good chuckle on his opening line), Political Radar, Political Punch (Check out Jake Tapper getting all kinds of steamed. Good for you JT), AMERICAblog and StephenBainbridge.com. Marc Ambinder, The Huffington Post, Pol Watchers, Perfunction, Blue Girl, Red State and Macsmind. American Street and The Poor Man Institute

(Note: One thing that really bothers me is that there’s a lot of well deserved indignation regarding the Obama dig, but not a whole lot out there regarding the pretty blatant sexist dig towards Hillary Clinton. This kind of bothers me, too.)

(edited by DrGail)

6 Responses to “Oh “Boy””

  1. DrGail says:

    I’m not quite sure what the difference in my reactions means.

    I had heard about Geoff Davis’ comment about Obama, and was mightily (and appropriately) aghast. My inner shrieker said “OMG, I can’t believe he said that in this day and age.”

    I had not heard about McConnell’s comment about Hillary, but my reaction was definitely stronger. I thought, “Man oh man, I can’t wait until I can draw a red circle and line through his picture on my ‘Goin’ down gallery 2008′ He deserves to DIE.”

    Clearly, I am no fan of “no lips” McConnell (a WATB if ever there was one), but his demeaning of women is just beyond the pale. Perhaps it’s because I’m just too intimately acquainted with the difficulty of gaining credibility as a woman in a “man’s” world. It’s certainly not because I’m a fan of Hillary Clinton.

    AARGH! (This is the sound of my head exploding)

  2. I know, right? I mean, everyone’s in an uproar over Davis’ comments, and they should be, but no one is saying one way or another about McConnell’s remarks about Clinton.

    That was the point behind me highlighting both. People play with the boundaries of decency with race and gender in this Democratic primary, but let’s not forget, you know, where some others are.

  3. HootNHoller says:

    I thought the Hooter joke was pretty funny, and I hate Republicans.

    You can crucify me now. :)

  4. DrGail says:

    Good point, Kyle. It sure helps to remember that, while we’re debating and sometimes warring over the nuances of the race and gender issues, the Repugs are still stuck in the 1950s.

    This is just another realm in which the Repugs appear to think that everything was SOOOO much better in the 1950s, and we would all do well to go back there.

  5. retire05 says:

    I just love it when the anyone, on both sides of the aisle, decide to be indignant over what is a commonly used term in the South. Ask any woman [in the South] how her husband is and you will probably ask her “How’s your boy?” Same with her grown son. But any small excuse to bash the South by those who don’t live there is reason enough, right?

    Now, perhaps one of you would like to send me a $100.00 check for everytime Bob Beckel has called George W. Bush “that boy”? But considering the fact that the north is economically gasping it’s last breath (accounting for the large influx of Northerns moving to the South) I am sure not one of you have the money to take that on.

  6. DrGail says:

    I think the issue is one of context. Certain words, or terms of address, are acceptable in some settings but not in others. For example, women frequently call their friends “girl” in a casual setting, but this is clearly unacceptable in the workplace no matter the speaker or the recipient.

    Also, the term “boy” takes on very nasty overtones when the referent is a black man. This is especially (but not exclusively) the case when the speaker is a southerner, and you can be certain that because of the party difference and the context Geoff Davis did not mean to be cute, familiar, or anything except demeaning and dismissive.

    I realize that English is a very difficult language given all the nuances, but why is this concept so difficult to grasp?

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