I wrote a column that appeared in the November 19 edition of the Joplin Globe. The column was a response to another Globe blogger, Geoff Caldwell, who had criticized me in the paper for, among other things, claiming that the mid-term election was largely about the economy. Naturally, I countered Geoff’s criticism with what I judged were relevant facts.
But for anyone who has ever read the “discussion” section that accompanies articles on the Globe website, most of the comments on the column I wrote were predictable, if mostly unenlightening.
There were a few positive comments, which I appreciated very much. But most were quite negative, including these:
I confess that Graham is consistently wrong. I confess that Graham isn’t going to ever be right. I confess that after reading Graham accuse another of racism, my first two confessions are proven correct. I confess that I think reading Graham is tiring.
a reader wrote:
Graham has no basis for argument except to insinuate racism on someone else. Man, this is lame and juvenile writing.
Duane has become some sort of obsessed and juvenile character concerning all this. I can not believe that the first thing he does is somehow make up and attribute racism to Caldwell. You see what some minds resort to when they lack the truth. This is amazingly childish.
Not Surprised wrote:
I hope you’re not surprised that Duane would resort to a thinly disguised accusation of racism, Geoff. It’s the typical Alinksy ‘Rules for Radicals’ stuff. If you’re getting your butt handed to you by the facts, attack the messenger. It doesn’t matter whether the attack is true, it only matters that you get the accusation out there to get others thinking about it. Make them spend time defending themselves against the accusation. The more you make them defend against it, the more you can turn the topic to what you accused them of and distract others from the original topic where they destroyed you with the facts. It’s scummy, but then scummy is right up Duane’s alley…
So, you get the point. I confess to one and all that I have never read Saul Alinsky, although I wish I had the time. Since the right hates him so much, he must be worth reading. But I digress.
Here is how someone writing under the name of Geoff, presumably Geoff Caldwell, responded:
I’m used to you distorting the facts and re-writing history to support the liberal cause but calling me racist crosses the line bud.
Now, I don’t know for a fact that this is the real Geoff Caldwell, but it doesn’t really matter for my purposes here. What matters is just why all these folks would accuse me (falsely, of course) of labeling Mr. Caldwell a racist?
Well, because that’s one way the right-wing has of deflecting criticism of their use of language, when they are talking about our president.
Mr. Obama has suffered many indignities since he assumed office, including incessant questions from the non-fringe right-wing about his birthplace and his patriotism. Even his wife’s patriotism has been challenged, again and again. He and his family have been the subject of racist e-mails that to this day circulate around the country, with many of the circulators claiming they are not racists for participating, since the e-mails are “jokes.”
Which leads me to how I began my column that so offended the right-wing sympathizers who read the Globe:
I was grateful that in his post-election analysis last Sunday (Globe, Nov. 14) blogger Geoff Caldwell managed to avoid the use of “O boy” and “Bama Boy” as references to President Barack Obama.
Geoff’s pale-faced sense of humor tends to have an Old South edge to it, and I commend him for dispensing with the disrespectful — dare I say, racially charged — epithets for Mr. Obama he has sometimes used on the Internet.
Now, it doesn’t take a Saul Alinsky to figure out that I never called Mr. Caldwell a racist. But I mentioned that some of the language he has used in reference to President Obama was disrespectful and racially charged, and somehow that is the same thing as claiming Geoff wears a funny-looking hood at night and has a peculiar affection for flaming crosses.
In truth, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea whether Geoff Caldwell is a racist in his heart of hearts. Unless he specifically identifies himself as such, or unless he uses language that leaves no doubt, I can only comment on the nature of the language he selects when identifying our African-American president.
And here are only two examples, which appeared in the comments section of this blog recently, and which served as the source for those in my column:
I’ll take the Koch brothers over Bama Boy and your ilk any day. –Geoff Caldwell, 10/15/2010
Get a grip DB, as much as Frank tries to explain it away he was neck deep in this mess and the Dems planted all the seeds that caused the initial crisis and now Oboy continues it with his government expansion and mounting debt. –Geoff Caldwell, 10/23/2010
Given our nation’s history with slavery, I don’t know how any American can use the term “boy” as a reference to our black president—or any other African-American—and not expect someone to call him on it.
Language evolves along with the people who speak it and write it, but there is no doubt that the term “boy” has always been derogatory when applied to black men. And there is no doubt it is still offensive today.
From the St. Louis Post Dispatch less than three weeks ago:
ATLANTA • In a certain context — and every Southerner knows what it is — the word “boy” is one of the oldest and most demeaning of racial epithets. During the civil rights struggle, black men sometimes wore placards stating simply, “I am a man.”
Now, a black Alabama man is pursuing a discrimination lawsuit against his employer, Tyson Foods, and has offered evidence that the white plant manager who denied him a promotion had once referred to him as “boy.”
Referring to a grown black man as “boy” is without a doubt a pejorative. Otherwise, why use it? What would be the point? In a Sociology textbook published in 2006, we find this:
Throughout the period of Jim Crow segregation in the American South, Black men, regardless of their age, were routinely referred to as “boy” by Whites. Calling a grown man a “boy” is an insult; it diminishes his status by defining him as childlike.
Obviously, it is within the context of dominant and subordinate group relationships that such terms are offensive. A black adult can often call another black adult a “boy” without offense, but a white cannot do so. It’s the same with the “N” word. That’s Sociology 101.
And if you don’t understand that as a writer, or if you bristle at someone pointing it out to you, perhaps you are in the wrong business.
Finally, as this case and others prove, right-wingers are hypersensitive to anyone pointing out that some of the language they use about President Obama is racially charged or racially offensive. If only they were as sensitive to how African-American citizens—and most white folks, too—react to the unending demands, from well-placed right-wingers, for Mr. Obama to prove his citizenship. Or hear them question out loud his love for America.
Or read references to him like BamaBoy or Oboy, written by a local blogger and columnist.