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Uppity Nigger Syndrome

April 15, 2008

I’m sure many of you of a certain age and membership in the club of the elitists (college educated, basically most bloggers) recall the old joke about the Black guy who went to Harvard. I recall that there was such a joke, however I don’t remember the punch line. It isn’t something I’d consider wasting space in my memory card over (I only have a few gigs up there).

Whatever the punchline, the point of the joke is to reduce the subject to an object – the black man is not an Ivy League college student, high achiever who has “broken the code.” The “joke” also serves the purpose of alleviating fears over the changes taking place in society; disappearing jobs, miscegenation, desegregation, fewer White basketball players, and so on.

To point out that people turn to humor (a peculiar brand of humor in the present case) to help in dealing with troubled times is hardly a controversial statement, even when applied to straight up race hatred. It’s a commonly accepted defense mechanism.

Another commonly accepted defense mechanism is projection. Projection is the baby cousin of paranoia, persecutory beliefs of a perceived threat, like the US circa early 1980’s of the “Yellow Peril,” that Japanese businesses would buy all of the West Coast, or that Mexican immigrants would take our jobs, or that the government may give us the bum rush if we are left unarmed.

There was a time when this defense mechanism, and the group seen to be utilizing this mechanism to the greatest extent were given a cute name by the obsessive media, called “angry White men.” They were the group that heralded the short-lived Republican revolution in 1994. They were represented in movies by Michael Douglas and Bruce Willis and often excoriated by feminists.

Funny how now it is suddenly elitist to talk about projection/paranoia and the working class.

We know why Sen. Clinton thinks it’s elitist. Because it serves as a desperate attack point in an electoral campaign, part of the kitchen sink strategy where any comment can be turned into a potential gaffe. The compliant punditry, willing to discuss anything ad infinitum just to fill up the space in the 24 hour broadcast period, will of course latch on and wonder why, why oh why Sen. Obama did you say this horrible thing? Are you now or have you ever been an ELITIST?

Why does this matter have such traction? Is Sen. Obama getting too big for his britches? Is it inconceivable that Obama might hold a nuanced view of the social psychology of the electorate? To some apparently it is. Reducing his statement to mere elitism is to accuse him of snobbery, and snobbery is about as anti-intellectual a stance as you can get. Snobs parrot the statements of their betters rather than coming to a view through engaging thought.

Reductionism has been the essence of many of the attacks on Obama. He wins only because Black people like him, suggests President Clinton. He wins because he’s “slick.” (it’s code). He’s only where he is because he’s Black, says Ferraro. He must denounce and reject Farrakhan because he’s Black, implies Tim Russert.

This is not simple racism. First, reductionism is the hallmark of punditry. Sen. Clinton has the women vote. Sen. Clinton won because she showed emotion, and women love emotion, implied Matthews.

Nah, the attack pattern is a familiar one to Black professionals. How dare you speak that way about your betters, boy! (anger) You couldn’t have possibly come up with that on your own (denial). Hmm, I think I remember that joke now. What do you call a Black guy with a Harvard degree? An uppity nigger. Oh, that’s not right. I think the punch line was simply “a nigger.”

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. my2sense permalink
    April 15, 2008 7:12 am

    Thank you Mark. I’ve been looking for a response in the press that could nail it like you did. I’m just a “typical” middle-aged white woman looking for some truth. I see it in Obama. And I see it in your words.

    Hillary’s whole campaign ainst Obama has had this tone from the beginning. “Shame on you, Barack Obama…” as though he were a child. Constantly referring to him as simply “my opponent,” refusing to use his name, as though he were a thing. Never once conceding a victory to him in any of the primary races, as though it were beneath her to take a back seat. Disparaging his religious heritage and traditions, twisting the words of Rev. Wright, in an attempt to disempower him, and in effect dividing this church family.

    She doesn’t have to use the “n” word. Her actions speak louder than words.

  2. April 15, 2008 8:50 am

    Thank you!
    I am the worst of the worst. A mixed breed who can “pass.”

    I went to a fancy school and learned the most important lesson of my life.
    No matter where you go or whom you are with, people in this country are racist and will show their true colors when they think they are not in mixed company.

    Hillary (and her people) think she is smart enough to spin it enough so she doesn’t appear to be. I beg to differ. HIllary, you ARE in mixed company.

  3. April 15, 2008 9:28 am

    Wow…an EXCELLENT post.

    I am just like “my2sense”…a middle-aged white woman looking for some truth. I refuse to follow a party-line and I will question things that bother me.

    This statement by Obama didn’t bother me one iota. The fake outrage is appalling…I took it as “punditry”…I hadn’t even thought about the racism angle that you brought up. I’m glad you shined the light on the truth of the matter.

  4. April 15, 2008 7:00 pm

    Wait, so if I think that Obama is dumb for saying “people cling to religion and guns because they are frustrated by the gubmint and scared of immigrants” this makes me………..racist?

    So when Bob Johnson (self-made billionaire black businessman) says “I don’t think he(Obama) has that common — what I call `I-want-to-go-out-and-have-a-drink-with-you — touch,” does that make him racist too?

  5. April 15, 2008 7:11 pm

    Gosh, Tman, I don’t know, does it?

    Do you really think Sen. Obama is dumb? Can one be both dumb and an elitist (as you seem to define elitist?)

    Do you think Bob Johnson gets a free pass because he’s Black?

    Do you think quoting Johnson, rather than say, I dunno, Carville, enhances your argument?

    It’s a fine point, Tman. This is not simply about the dreaded statement but about the ways in which people chose to attack Sen. Obama. If you don’t see it initially I invite you to chew on it for a while after you chill out.

  6. April 15, 2008 7:43 pm

    Gosh, Tman, I don’t know, does it?

    No, no it does not.

    Do you really think Sen. Obama is dumb?

    Much like Bush Jr., one doesn’t receive a diploma from Harvard if one is dumb, so no, I don’t think he’s dumb.

    Can one be both dumb and an elitist (as you seem to define elitist?)

    Elitists are pretty dumb by definition.

    Do you think quoting Johnson, rather than say, I dunno, Carville, enhances your argument?

    In the context of your post, I think so. Do you think Johnson is afflicted by the “uppity nigger syndrome”?

    This is not simply about the dreaded statement but about the ways in which people chose to attack Sen. Obama.

    This is the problem I foresee. According to your argument, if I think that Obama has crappy ideas that are out-of-touch with reality, then any type of argument I use to make this point is automatically racist.

    I think Obama should denounce Farrakhan because Farrakhan is a psychopath who feeds off of others hatred. I think Obama’s views on Iraq are ill-informed and ill-advised. I think Obama wants to raise my taxes to bail out people who continually make bad decisions, and I’m not making that much money to begin with.

    Do any of these views make me a racist?

  7. April 15, 2008 8:01 pm

    Well, you have the same problem as Ned. You think that people are going to accuse you of racism anytime you disagree with Obama, which is just . . . mind bogglingly absurd, I don’t see how anyone comes to this conclusion from logic or reason. This post certainly does not argue what you’re saying it does. It is about the ways in which Obama is attacked, not on the substance of those attacks.

    I think it’s pretty clear what I’m getting at here, Tman. Others have certainly been able to grok.

    However, I think it is telling that you seem to think it does enhance your argument to bring up Johnson in the context of this post while avoiding the question of whether you think Johnson would get a free pass from me. You’re using him because he’s a Black man who criticized Obama, as if to say “See, A Black man thinks this too, how can this be racist?”

    Again, this is not just about “the statement.” This is about how institutional racism informs the attacks on Obama, how many, Johnson included, fall into this trap of reductionism. The reactions to the statement are telling enough (i.e. Hobbs who’s the boss nonsense)

    Johnson was smart enough to make his money from the vices of others (if you watched BET in the 90s you’d know what I was talking about). He doesn’t get a lot of props from me on that score. However there seems to be a savvy businessman in there. BUT, he is way out of his league when it comes to getting involved in politics. He thinks, and the Clinton team thinks, he can say certain things because of his race and he wont get called on it. He was WAY wrong.

    Also, he isn’t saying anything that White people may take affront to, so I wouldn’t count on anyone tossing an uppity bomb at him. In fact, his tenure at BET during the Viacom era tended to reinforce the most base perceptions of African Americans, a change from the old days of BET when it sought to compete with CNN and MTV rather than Fox.

  8. April 15, 2008 8:08 pm

    How does one make over 1 million dollars/year and call someone else elitist?

    What Obama said was correct. Plenty of people vote with one issue in mind because they are clinging to a single idea as “right.”

    What Obama said, has been said before…http://www.tcfrank.com/wmk.html. And the Clinton’s couldn’t have been happier to agree at the time.

  9. April 16, 2008 12:47 am

    Well, you have the same problem as Ned.

    You think Ned and I share the same problem, and I believe you are mistaken.

    You think that people are going to accuse you of racism anytime you disagree with Obama,

    The title of your post is “uppity nigger syndrome” and you think I’m worried about racism? That’s hilarious.

    I’m not the one who is worried about racism when I debate the merits of Obama’s positions. You’re the one bringing the race part up.

    This post certainly does not argue what you’re saying it does. It is about the ways in which Obama is attacked, not on the substance of those attacks.

    So you don’t want to defend the merits of Obama’s positions. That’s fine. I wouldn’t want to either.

    Again, this is not just about “the statement.”

    Right, remember the racism, but don’t forget the “uppity nigger syndrome”. Got it.

    This is about how institutional racism informs the attacks on Obama,

    Oh. I thought it was because Obama thinks the hicks are stupid.

    Johnson was smart enough to make his money from the vices of others,

    Phew, good thing he wasn’t an ivy-league lawyer, because you know…….*wink wink*

  10. April 16, 2008 1:11 am

    I’m not the one who is worried about racism when I debate the merits of Obama’s positions. You’re the one bringing the race part up.

    What? If you aren’t worried about racism, why are you wetting your pants over whether or not people will accuse you of being racist?

    So you don’t want to defend the merits of Obama’s positions.

    Reading IS fundamental, you know. Hint hint.

    To the other non-seq.s I can only imagine that tax time has worn out your faculties.

    As this convo has devolved into an Internet debate kind of thing, let’s move on to the next person. Anyone?

  11. Nance Confer permalink
    April 16, 2008 9:59 am

    hankers: What Obama said was correct. Plenty of people vote with one issue in mind because they are clinging to a single idea as “right.”

    Me: And he was right when he spoke about plenty of people being disillusioned by the lack of action from DC, over different administrations run by different parties. And he was right when he spoke about those same people expecting nothing, or at least nothing competent, from government anymore and going to the polls making their decisions based on something other than what they hope government might accomplish. Like empty rhetoric about guns or God.

    I’m also a middle-aged white suburban Mom planning to vote for Obama. Maybe we are a large part of your demographic — although I just got here. 🙂

    Nance

  12. April 16, 2008 10:33 am

    why are you wetting your pants over whether or not people will accuse you of being racist?

    Wetting my pants? You can call me a racist, I don’t really care. The point is you’re afraid to discuss the merits of Obamas positions WITHOUT bringing race in to it.

    Reading IS fundamental, you know. Hint hint.

    Well, I’m sorry I wasted my time. Enjoy your peanut gallery.

  13. April 16, 2008 5:47 pm

    Tman, I suggested the hint to read because Obama’s positions are discussed here regularly without race being discussed along side. If you bothered to look around you’d see it, however you’re apparently more comfortable with your own fantasies about me than you are about the facts.

    FWIW, I have no idea whether you’re racist and won’t hazard to guess. At no time have I suggested nor implied you are. I can only surmise that you hoped I’d call you a racist so you could play the unjustly accused.

  14. April 16, 2008 6:09 pm

    I suggested the hint to read because Obama’s positions are discussed here regularly without race being discussed along side.

    I apologize. I took the hint to mean something….else. I’ll poke around a bit to see where you’re coming from.

    you’re apparently more comfortable with your own fantasies about me than you are about the facts.

    I can assure you I harbor no fantasies about you.

    I have no idea whether you’re racist and won’t hazard to guess.

    I’ll save you the trouble, I’m not racist.

    At no time have I suggested nor implied you are.

    Maybe so, but your whole post is about “how institutional racism informs the attacks on Obama” and that to me sounds like you believe that the informed attacks on Obama are, well, racist.

    I can only surmise that you hoped I’d call you a racist so you could play the unjustly accused.

    Your whole post is predicated on -as you stated- how the “institutional racism informs the attacks on Obama”. Nowhere do you state that one can disagree with Obamas positions without having some tint of racism. I certainly don’t need you to call me a racist to make my point. You’ve made it quite clear already, and that is what I was questioning.

    Believe it or not, people can think Obama is an elitist ivy-league scam-artist without being racist.

  15. April 16, 2008 7:21 pm

    No one has said otherwise, Tman.

    Nance

  16. Collin permalink
    August 24, 2009 1:49 am

    You are right on……thank God a few of us get it.

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