Look, and be Amazed

by Belle Waring on April 15, 2008

Would you like to see a bunch of people argue that calling a black man in his 40s “boy” isn’t racist, and it’s cynical playing of the mythical “race card” to say that it is? Hie thee to the commenters at Matthew Yglesias’. I considered excerpting, but it was like cool-ranch-race-flavored Pringles: once I popped, I couldn’t stop. Just go scroll down in slack-jawed amazement. I used to think he and Ezra Klein were neck-and-neck in the competition for “liberal blogger whose comment section was made most useless by Al-bots and such,” but the tireless efforts of Steve Sailer and “Fred” have put Yggles over the top. Kudos!

UPDATE: Ezra Klein’s commenters have objected that they don’t actually suck. This objection has merit; those guys have reasonably substantive conversations about health policy nowadays. I was really thinking of Ezra’s pre-Prospect blog, which had an Al, the Fred who I think is now Yglesias’, and Captain Toke–it was horrible. So Ygelsias’ blog is more properly considered as being in the running with Kevin Drum’s site, but he nonetheless retains the olive branch.
ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς αἰθόμενον πῦρ
ἅτε διαπρέπει νυκτὶ μεγάνορος ἔξοχα πλούτου:
εἰ δ’ ἄεθλα γαρύεν
ἔλδεαι, φίλον ἦτορ,
μηκέθ’ ἁλίου σκόπει
ἄλλο θαλπνότερον ἐν ἁμέρᾳ φαεννὸν ἄστρον ἐρήμας δι’ αἰθέρος,
μηδ’ Ὀλυμπίας ἀγῶνα φέρτερον αὐδάσομεν…
(Translation here.)

{ 151 comments }

1

qb 04.15.08 at 4:15 am

i’m kind of amazed that anyone is still amazed by this kind of thing.

2

voyou 04.15.08 at 4:34 am

I’m particularly impressed with the comment from one Chris Ford. “It’s not racist, and only the Jew media would think it was racist.”

3

Belle Waring 04.15.08 at 4:35 am

yeah, well I’m amazed that you’re amazed…no, that’s a lie. but I was actually surprised to see people straight-up defending the use of “boy” to an adult black man as not necessarily racist. it’s like olde timey racism from the days of yore.

4

Quo Vadis 04.15.08 at 4:42 am

At the risk of making the comments section here useless, I will point out that the term ‘boy’, often, but not always, prefaced with the word ‘ol’ is (or was some 25 years ago) a colloquialism common in some parts of the south, or at least in the small Texas town where I lived part of my youth. It was used to refer in the third person to any male of any age or race much as ‘guy’ is used elsewhere.

That said, for a public figure to use such a colloquialism, especially one that it likely to be interpreted as an insult, in a public forum is pretty stupid.

5

Quiddity 04.15.08 at 4:46 am

“Al-bot(s)”

Did you come up with that word, or has it been in use before. It’s a good term, either way.

6

Belle Waring 04.15.08 at 4:48 am

dude, I was born in savannah georgia, and lived in a small town in south carolina until I was 8, in the home where my dad still lives. unless they’ve got magical, “make shit not be racist” pixie dust falling down from the trees like pollen in kentucky, then calling a black adult man “boy” is 100%, absolutely, no question, racist. this is true even though white men sometimes refer to one another as boy, or old boy.

7

s.e. 04.15.08 at 5:00 am

“calling a black adult man “boy” is 100%, absolutely, no question, racist. this is true even though white men sometimes refer to one another as boy, or old boy.”

Tell me how that makes sense, unless you’re a mind reader or assume all white southern men are racist? Most people are of course, north and south, but I doubt you’re making that argument.
And I thought the whole thing was as funny as O-bomb-a’s riffing on the angry peasantry.

8

N 04.15.08 at 5:20 am

Yeah Belle, you need a mind reading machine to tell what people mean by the words they use! I could be using this very sentence to sneer at s.e. but he will never know.

9

Leary 04.15.08 at 5:50 am

I grew up in Texas, too, and I can tell you, pace quo vadis, that there’s a world of difference between “ol’ boy,” which is roughly affectionate and almost invariably used by one white man about another, and “that boy,” which, when used by a white person about an adult black man, is only slightly less offensive than “that nigger.” I would bet anything that there were no black faces in that roomful of Kentucky Republicans. Everybody in that room knew exactly what Davis’s remark meant and how it was meant, and enjoyed a chuckle about it, too.

10

John Holbo 04.15.08 at 5:58 am

[from Armbinder] “they’re offensive because, well, in 2008, for a white person to call a black person “boy,” is generally seen as racist no matter where you are. (CF: “Mammy,” “Uncle,” and other terms of “endearment”.)”

Belle and I are going to have to retrain the kids when we move back to the states because they are now used to calling older people ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’.

s.e.: “Tell me how that makes sense, unless you’re a mind reader or assume all white southern men are racist?”

It works the way language works generally. Admittedly that is a bit of a puzzle, but surely there is no special puzzle in this case.

11

Quo Vadis 04.15.08 at 6:09 am

Belle @6

Now that I think about it, in situations where one was talking about a specifically identified African-American male, as in this case, using ‘boy’ might have been treading the line even 25 years ago.

I was thinking more along the lines of: “I was talking to this (otherwise unspecified) ol’ boy at the bar yesterday…” and it was understood that one could not infer the race or age of the subject.

But, ‘dude’ was perhaps more common with my generation than ‘boy’ anyway.

12

notsneaky 04.15.08 at 6:11 am

Wasn’t born in the South but lived about 10 years there (and my folks still do, and I just said “I’m ‘fixin’ to check the internets” to my gf which she thought was funny, and anyone who thinks that the SEC isn’t the toughest conference in college football is talkin’ smack).

White man calling a black man “boy” is definitely racist. There’s no room for ambiguity here. And no, you don’t have to be from the South to know that.

“Good ol’ boy” is a completely different thing because, you know, like crazily it’s got those two qualifying words in front of the word “boy” which changes the meaning. And that’s not even to mention that the context in which the respective referrals are used in is completely different.

But I couldn’t really make it past like the 20th comment on that thread.

13

djw 04.15.08 at 6:44 am

The best/worst part about Yglesias threads is that just when you think it can’t get any worse, Chris Ford shows up to announce that in case anyone’s managed to forget, he’s still a proud, raving anti-semite.

14

krsa 04.15.08 at 6:58 am

I am not even american and I know from extensive research :) on hollywood movies, that “boy” as used here is plain, blatant racism (I have never been in the South). It is pretty impressive cowardice that people are trying to pass this off as not racism.

15

dsquared 04.15.08 at 7:55 am

If people in the South really do go around calling each other “that boy” all the time with no regard for race and the Obama campaign are just touchy and oversensitive, it’s a bit strange that this is the first time it’s happened, four months or so into the campaign.

16

dsquared 04.15.08 at 7:58 am

by the way, is this the “national conversation about race” that you lot were going to start having after that speech?

17

ajay 04.15.08 at 10:24 am

I’m trying to think of a UK equivalent but can’t get further than a hypothetical Glaswegian politician who calls someone “pal”… (which means literally “friend” but in the Glaswegian vocative case roughly translates as “O person who I am about to subject to violent attack”; other examples of words which change meaning when used in the Glaswegian vocative are “Jimmy” which means “O male person” and “hen” which means “O woman over about 30 or so”).

18

Ben Alpers 04.15.08 at 10:40 am

by the way, is this the “national conversation about race” that you lot were going to start having after that speech?

Yup. That would be the one!

19

Brownie 04.15.08 at 10:52 am

The specific use we’re discussing here is unquestionably racsit, but I’m reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied’:

Deputy sheriff said to me
Tell me what you come here for, boy.

It could have been a song about a black man who was already in trouble and heading into more, but I always assumed the ‘boy’ in question was either Simon or Garfunkel, neither of whom are black…….just media-controlling crackers.

20

Total 04.15.08 at 11:23 am

by the way, is this the “national conversation about race” that you lot were going to start having after that speech?

Yes, it is. How’s that conversation on the surveillance state going?

21

stostosto 04.15.08 at 11:58 am

Of course, the correct affectionate term for black men in the south is ‘macaca boy’.

22

Mark Johnston 04.15.08 at 12:07 pm

When Bert Newton introduced Muhammad Ali at the 1979 Logies (Australia’s TV awards), he said “I like the boy!” in an ingratiating tone. Ali visibly and impressively bristled as only world heavyweight champion can do and an ashen Newton nervously joked his way out of it. That moment was ranked one of the top 50 most memorable moments on Australian television by TV Week (which sponsors the Logies, so OK this finding is questionable, but still it was a big deal at the time). Bert didn’t mean anything by it – Ali was a relatively young man, “I like the boy!” was a current advertising slogan for KFC and the term doesn’t have that history in Australia. But, he did realise he’d screwed up as soon as he’d said it, so did his audience and so did Ali. In Australia. In 1979. So those people confused about what it means to call a black man “boy”, where do they live?

23

Doctor Slack 04.15.08 at 12:15 pm

I’m pretty sure Sailer is this Steve Sailer, the notorious supremacist who writes for VDare. And as we can see from that thread, he hath cronies. Sort of person one should probably ban from one’s comments section forthwith if one was paying attention.

24

Martin Wisse 04.15.08 at 12:19 pm

All of which has just conspired to put the Dukes of Hazzard theme tune in my head again. And surely that is the real tragedy.

25

rea 04.15.08 at 12:34 pm

All of which has just conspired to put the Dukes of Hazzard theme tune in my head again.

I never watched the show, much, but it always struck me as curious that Hazzard County, Georgia, had a black population of zero . . .

26

Mrs Tilton 04.15.08 at 12:44 pm

Notsneaky @12,

anyone who thinks that the SEC isn’t the toughest conference in college football is talkin’ smack

Too true, too true. But then, to be fair, other conferences can’t send you a Wells letter before they tackle you.

27

Matt Stevens 04.15.08 at 12:55 pm

Maybe we can all acknowledge two points:

a) Not every single Southerner who says “old boy” is a virulent racist.
b) Nevertheless, “boy” has an ugly history; almost all adult African-Americans consider it a racist insult; and people shouldn’t be surprised if it gives offense. A 49-year old politician should know better.

I don’t see a great mystery here.

28

Barry 04.15.08 at 1:01 pm

Matt, maybe we can acknowledge the fact that the term in question is not “good ol’ boy”, but ‘boy’. Plain and simple. No ‘good’, no ‘old’, no “ol'”.

29

Kriston Capps 04.15.08 at 1:23 pm

dude, I was born in savannah georgia, and lived in a small town in south carolina until I was 8, in the home where my dad still lives. unless they’ve got magical, “make shit not be racist” pixie dust falling down from the trees like pollen in kentucky, then calling a black adult man “boy” is 100%, absolutely, no question, racist. this is true even though white men sometimes refer to one another as boy, or old boy.

Little lady doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about.

30

Matt Stevens 04.15.08 at 1:30 pm

Yeah, but the term the guy used was “old boy,” which some Southerners say has a different meaning; while African Americans find “boy” offensive, with or without the “old.” Whatever; I’m not a Southerner or a black man, I’m just pointing out that (a) and (b) don’t factually contradict each other.

31

Freddie 04.15.08 at 1:31 pm

Please note that Freddie does not equal Fred.

32

Rob 04.15.08 at 1:31 pm

Seriously, how can anyone doubt its racist? I mean goddammn.

33

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 1:33 pm

There’s a specific form of racism / sexism involving overfamiliarity. Calling an adult by his first name or a nickname in an official situation, and refusing to use his last name, was standard in the racist South.Black men would have to fight the county clerk to get their full formal name written on legal documents, for example. Calling Henry Jefferson “Henry” not racist if you know him personally and it’s an informal situation, but in a business or official context, or if you’re total strangers who haven’t been introduced, it would be racist.

If you substitute a white Henry Jefferson, exactly the same usage would be highly condescending and insulting, though not specifically racist. No one would do it without the intention of condescending or insulting someone — a man who is young, or poor, or inexperienced, in some other way impaired.

Saying “me and the boys are going out to have a few beers” is familiarity, but it’s appropriate familiarity. It implies a closeness which is real. (On the other hand, if “the boys” don’t actually like the guy coming along, and are just politely tolerating him, they would find saying that annoyingly overfamiliar.)

It’s pretty much identical with women and “girl” and the overfamiliar use of a woman’s first name.

You actually have a familiar ritual when the boss says “Just call me Henry!” It’s assumed that you’ll call him Mr. Jefferson until authorized. Or when someone newly introduced says “Call be Henry”.

These are tricky rules even though everyone learns them easily in context. Simple-minded people with no real life experience find them impossible to understand, especially if they’re crypto-racists with an axe to grind.

34

MR. Bill 04.15.08 at 1:40 pm

Ok, Blue Ridge GA chiming in. “Boy” is not something you should call a black guy, and you would do so at you peril. The history is still to raw for a lot of folks to use this sort of discourse. Listen to the whole Davis tape (Some of Matt’s commenter’s link to it) and decide for your self.
But the weird thing is that Davis alludes to some sort of National Security testing:

He said in his remarks at the GOP dinner that he also recently participated in a “highly classified, national security simulation” with Obama.
“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.”

That is troubling. Obama famously failed open on the matter of nuclear attack in an early debate.

He was given a scenario where ships bearing nuclear bombs unexpectedly blew up two major cities. Obama’s response was that as President, he would focus on the 1st Responders, ensuring they had the respurces and tools to cope with “people in need”. The others wisely said they were Commander in Chief, their 1st responsibility was to defend the nation and strike back at the enemy responsible for killing millions of Americans before other American cities were eradiacted. (All while Obama would be fretting about if there would be enough ice and disposable diapers to go around – as firestorms raged, radioactivity spread, and people wondered what city would be nuked next)

These national security exercises include key decision-makers and people considered plausible future decision-makers. Both military, and potential future civilian leaders of the military. With Obama, the odds on favorite to be the next President, an obvious selection.

Somehow I think of the Kobayashi Maru…

And wonder what is going on here. The racist remark is covering an ever more sinister slur, a claim Obama ‘failed’ some sort of top secret test..
Yes, this was a racist remark (with some other layers of meaning, Obama a ‘boy’ compared to McCain. But what else is it?

35

MR. Bill 04.15.08 at 1:41 pm

dang, i didn’t get the blockquote cite right. Quote begins at “He said..” and end at “an obvious selection.”

36

roac 04.15.08 at 1:47 pm

I was more interested in the content of Congressman Whosis’s speech. The assertion was that somebody hush-hush subjects members (all of them?) to a role-playing scenario involving terrorist-detonated nukes, and that Obama failed to give the correct response, which was presumably “Nuke Tehran!” Despite the alleged hush-hushness, not only Congressman Whosis, but the egregious Chris Ford purports to know all about it and is happy to tell the world about Obama’s reprehensible non-bloodthirst. The words “setup” and “Swift Boat” come inescapably to mind.

37

Robin 04.15.08 at 1:51 pm

The person I feel most sorry for is Steven Saylor, the excellent novelist, whose good name gets progressively more eclipsed by Steve “our gene pool is being diluted” Sailer.

38

neil 04.15.08 at 1:56 pm

That example sounds bogus to me. The passive voice is troubling… “nuclear bombs blew up in two American cities.” OK, well, where did they come from? If they were attached to ICBMs we know where they came from and we have someone to strike back at, but if they just unexpectedly exploded all of a sudden, where would we strike at? Would it really be more urgent to find out who to bomb and then bomb them, before you even begin to worry about the refugees? Should we just torture all the Arabs we can find until they tell us where the next bomb is hidden?

The U.S. didn’t attack Afghanistan until a month after 9/11 and I don’t recall anybody seriously saying that was an imprudent delay.

39

neil 04.15.08 at 1:59 pm

BTW, there was a much better Steve Sailer quote on another Yglesias thread. It really made you wonder if he lives on the same planet as the rest of us.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright is not going away. For example, he’s already signed up to be the main speaker at the huge NAACP annual dinner in Detroit. The man is an attentionaholic and there’s a part of him that would rather see Obama lose the election if he, Rev. Wright, can go down in the history books as the truth-telling prophet who showed that a black candidate can’t an even break in the white man’s system.

How can you call someone an “attention-holic” when they’ve spent over a month being one of the hottest topics in the news media and have never so much as said anything about the controversy in public, much less given an interview? And then he says Wright is more interested in being a victim than having Obama elected, even when it’s patently clear that he’s maintaining his silence for the sake of Obama’s campaign. It helps to have the sort of presumption of bad faith that seems to only be possible with virulent, dumb racism, I guess.

40

Slothrop 04.15.08 at 2:02 pm

Some people believe African Americans can do without this hypersensitivity. We believe that it does more harm than help to the cause. It baffles me that Ivy League educated people misplace this opinion for bigotry and belittle people who have the opinion for not being anti-racist enough.

41

Christopher Colaninno 04.15.08 at 2:03 pm

”unless they’ve got magical, “make shit not be racist” pixie dust falling own from the trees like pollen in Kentucky

ha ha

Ronald Reagan took the secret of where get his, “make shit not racist pixie dust” to the grave. If they had any sources of that left they surely would have used to save George Allen.

42

Kenneth 04.15.08 at 2:11 pm

Well Belle Waring, I hope you don’t feel so smug about your commenters now. It seems Crooked Timber readers can argue about meaning too.

43

jshinola 04.15.08 at 2:22 pm

For all of those who doubt the racist undertones of the word boy, I challenge you to go out and actually call a black man a boy. Let me know what happens.

44

Adam Villani 04.15.08 at 2:24 pm

It’s important to know the context of this particular usage of “boy,” too. He wasn’t saying something familiar or complimentary like “That’s my boy, Obama, always doin’ the right thing!” He was saying that he didn’t trust him with national security matters. In other words, he was belittling him anyway, even without the racist term. The deniers are saying “Oh yeah, he was belittling him using a term widely associated with racism, but there was no racist intent!” Yeah, right.

45

Matt Weiner 04.15.08 at 2:29 pm

In other words, he was belittling him anyway, even without the racist term.

And in his full remarks (this has an audio link) Davis has an utterly bizarre comment about Obama spending many years of his life in prison. What kind of garbage is that?

Fun fact: Geoffrey Davis was born in Montreal.

46

Matt Weiner 04.15.08 at 2:32 pm

Ah, one of Yglesias’s commenters says that it’s “who was put in the Senate by some guy who’s probably going to spend some years of his life in prison,” which is an allusion to Antoin Rezko.

47

rea 04.15.08 at 2:37 pm

How can you call someone an “attention-holic” when they’ve spent over a month being one of the hottest topics in the news media and have never so much as said anything about the controversy in public, much less given an interview?

Projection.

Simple questions, simple answers . . .

48

lemuel pitkin 04.15.08 at 2:41 pm

One of the things that makes honest discussions of racism impossible is that a lot of people insist that it can only mean an acknowledged, unmotivated animus against people solely on the basis of race. Basically, unless someone comes out and says, “I don’t like black people just because they’re black,” they’re not a racist.

But of course no one ever does say this. Every instance of racism in the real world involves a certain amount of ambiguity about the person’s “true” thoughts, and is part of a worldview in which racial beliefs are more or less rational.

Is someone who won’t hire a seemingly qualified black candidate because he suspects his credentials were inflated by affirmative action, racist?

I someone who won’t live in a neighborhood with a significant black population (and hopes no blacks move into his own neighborhood) because of fear of crime, racist?

Is someone who believes that blacs are significantly less intelligent than whites, racist?

I’ve asked these exact questions in comments threads at MY’s pla, and gotten resounding choruses of No. Anything that isn’t pure, unmotivated bigotry isn’t racism at all.

But the current thread is an extreme instance of this kind of bar-lowering. A fellow named SomeCallMeTim writes that

Sailer catches too much grief. I find it impossible not to call him a racist–I don’t know what other word there is to describe him–but let’s admit that it seems to be a neurotic racism rather than one driven by animus.

So now even acknowledged racism is acceptable as long as it’s “neurotic.”

Altho to be fair, the bizarre focus on animus as the defining feature of racism has made appearances here at CT, too…

49

engels 04.15.08 at 2:43 pm

And to think that before the days of the internet, blogs and all the other marvels of e-democracy I had never even heard of people like Steve Sailer or Chris Ford, let alone had the opportunity to read their racist drivel on a daily basis…

50

Keith 04.15.08 at 2:50 pm

As someone still living in Savannah GA, Belle is right. “Boy” is a wink and a nudge away from the N word, and not that happy go lucky, we’re pals so I’ll call you dirty names for fun variation, either. Coming form a middle aged White Republican from KY, it’s Racist with a capitol R wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and hastily stuffing a white hood into the closet.

51

Cyrus 04.15.08 at 3:03 pm

4: That said, for a public figure to use such a colloquialism, especially one that it likely to be interpreted as an insult, in a public forum is pretty stupid.

Yup, as always, this seems way more complicated than it needs to be. A white guy in his 40s calling a black guy in his 40s “boy” is almost certainly racist. There’s a slight chance that it isn’t: maybe where the white guy grew up, everyone called everyone else “boy” no matter how well they know each other. That doesn’t seem to apply here because Davis didn’t grow up in the south and all the “ol’ boy” examples I’ve seen are among friends and Davis and Obama aren’t, but whatever. But even then, it’s so stupid and so easily misinterpreted that even if the white guy isn’t racist, he’s an utter moron. You might as well call Obama’s health care policy “niggardly” or say “let’s call a spade a spade” when arguing that his political beliefs have been obfuscated. Neither expression is racial in meaning or origin, but how stupid would you have to be to use them in those contexts?

52

mds 04.15.08 at 3:08 pm

Yeah, but the term the guy used was “old boy,”

No, it wasn’t. It was “That boy.” It was not modified by “good”. It was not modified by “ol'”. It was not modified by “mad about the”. This is why people have repeatedly pointed out in this thread that it was not modified with anything. Congressman Davis even quotes himself in the apology letter provided at the Ambinder link above, for good golly gosh’s sake.

53

Slothrop 04.15.08 at 3:23 pm

Coming form a middle aged White Republican from KY, it’s Racist with a capitol R wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and hastily stuffing a white hood into the closet.

Barack Obama does not approve this message and neither should you. If you don’t see that statement as judgmental and hypocritical, then I don’t know what to say to you.

54

Anderson 04.15.08 at 3:28 pm

Just chiming in on usage grounds … here in Mississippi, no one in his right, non-racist mind would call a black man “boy.” No white person, anyway; black-on-black discourse may have some of the same leeway as with the N-word.

55

The M 04.15.08 at 3:31 pm

The only person I can think of who can get away with calling adult men “that boy” is Dick Button. A friend was complaining about his calling female skaters “girls.” I pointed out that he called the male skaters “boys.”

He gets away with it because he picked up the habit back in the elden days, he has clearly been told not to do it (you can tell from the pause he puts in front of “young men”), but sometimes is so overcome he can’t help it – “that boy is just magnificent!”

56

Righteous Bubba 04.15.08 at 3:37 pm

You might as well call Obama’s health care policy “niggardly” or say “let’s call a spade a spade” when arguing that his political beliefs have been obfuscated. Neither expression is racial in meaning or origin, but how stupid would you have to be to use them in those contexts?

Good work not using them in those contexts.

57

Matt Weiner 04.15.08 at 3:39 pm

But did Cyrus use them or mention them?

58

Righteous Bubba 04.15.08 at 3:41 pm

He mentioned an entire context! Yikes!

59

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 3:44 pm

I was going to mention that Kevin Drum’s commentators were the worst ever, but They seem to be moderating now.

60

michael 04.15.08 at 3:48 pm

ajay: that partly shows why the internet makes these comment fests worse. I don’t think any British people would get the history of boy intuitively, and here it just seems a bit bizarre, not racist.

Much like it would to everybody everywhere else if a large politician called Timothy was referred to slyly as a big Tim :)

61

"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 3:55 pm

I’ve got to say that without knowing more about Davis, it just doesn’t seem quite so cut-and-dried to me. I’ve heard the locution ‘that boy’ in the south applied to adult whites, particularly by their elders, at least a few times.

Now, I’m no southerner, so admittedly there may be situational subtleties (similar to those pointed out at no. 32, above, e.g.) in the instant case I’m not hip to that mark this deployment of the phrase more clearly racist as-applied. (And of course the whole point of being “subtle” in this way often is to make the code conveniently deniable.) But then neither Belle nor Matt (and you know I love you both) is aware of these subtleties either, which means their certitude isn’t justified.

62

Juan 04.15.08 at 3:56 pm

“For all of those who doubt the racist undertones of the word boy, I challenge you to go out and actually call a black man a boy. Let me know what happens.”

I challenge you to call a black man “niggardly”. Just because a black man may violently attack you, doesn’t mean you said something racist.

63

Matt Stevens 04.15.08 at 3:58 pm

Huh … Yes, mds, you are right — he didn’t use the term “old.” My mistake.

Honestly, though, my comment was not intended to defend this bastard. It was more to find common ground with those who said “me use this term all the time down South and we don’t mean anything by it.” You can accept that without denying the racist use of the term, and while acknowledging its offensiveness.

64

Daniel S. Goldberg 04.15.08 at 3:59 pm

While I’m generally for dialogue on almost everything, it is amazing to me that we are having a lengthy conversation about whether a white Southern man calling a black man in his 40s “that boy” has racist overtones.

Is this some kind of joke?

Living in Texas, I echo the sentiments of those commentators who suggest that those who doubt the implications of this exact language head down to the South, find a black man or black men, try the phrase out, and see what happens.

65

Matt Stevens 04.15.08 at 3:59 pm

we use” dammit.

66

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 4:12 pm

Q, it’s not subtleties at all. Even though it’s not taught in textbooks, or explicitly formulated except in etiquette and sociology books, every socially viable person learns who you can condescend familiarly to and who you can’t. And everyone also knows who their actual friends are who they can talk about this way without giving offense.

Now and then there’s misjudgment or presumptiousness on borderline cases, but there’s no possibility at all of that being what happened here, when a white Southern Republican was talking about a black Northern Democrat.

In short, their certitude is justified, and your skepticism is deluded.

67

Jon H 04.15.08 at 4:17 pm

mr. bill wrote: “(All while Obama would be fretting about if there would be enough ice and disposable diapers to go around – as firestorms raged, radioactivity spread, and people wondered what city would be nuked next)”

Uh, yeah. Who put the bombs on the ships? Ships are often registered in countries totally unrelated to the ownership, the operators of a ship aren’t necessarily the owners, and the cargo wasn’t necessarily the property of the operators.

So who are you and this dumbass Republican going to attack?

Meanwhile, the economic infrastructure of two large areas have been wiped out, in a manner that nobody in the US has ever had to deal with, and people and buildings for hundreds of miles downwind have been effected and need to be identified and treated. Each nuked city and its environs will make Katrina look like a picnic.

If swift, competent action isn’t taken quickly, the death toll will rise significantly and people will continue being hurt over time.

Meanwhile, if the nukes are coming in on boats, then it isn’t that hard to screen out further attacks, and the targets are limited.

68

Jon H 04.15.08 at 4:19 pm

” I’ve heard the locution ‘that boy’ in the south applied to adult whites, particularly by their elders, at least a few times.”

There’s no significant age difference in this case.

69

TLB 04.15.08 at 4:23 pm

Regarding the claim above that Sailer is a “supremacist”, he explains his position here:

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/051120_response.htm

But, banning him would definitely be the rightthing to do.

70

lemuel pitkin 04.15.08 at 4:24 pm

it just doesn’t seem quite so cut-and-dried to me.

And rememebr, if it’s not perfectly cut-and-dried, there’s nothing there. This is the kind of willed stupidity that makes racism such an impossible subject to talk about.

71

roac 04.15.08 at 4:29 pm

Meanwhile, if the nukes are coming in on boats, then it isn’t that hard to screen out further attacks, and the targets are limited.

Yes. On 9/11 they made all the planes land. In this hypothetical, you tell all the ships to turn around (and sink the ones that don’t).

And how does incinerating the (hypothetical) controller, even granting the assumption that you know who he is, stop the (hypothetical) in-transit attacks.

I repeat my questions: Was Davis a participant in this exercise? If so, who picked him and why? If not, who told him about it?

72

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 4:35 pm

Maybe we should stop talking about a bigot Republican’s story about a secret event Obama was at. It’s uncheckable and what actually happened may have been entirely different.

73

Bruce Webb 04.15.08 at 4:42 pm

“Deputy sheriff said to me
Tell me what you come here for, boy.”

It’s all about power. ‘Boy’ doesn’t equate to ‘nigger’, not exactly, instead it was an explicit recognition that under Jim Crow southern rules to be a white man or even a white boy gave you explicit social and verbal superiority over every black man. It is why he was Uncle Tom to your son and your twelve year old white son was Mr. William to him.

It is certainly possible for a white southerner to be placed in that same power position, if you get pulled over by an erstwhile Boss Hogg or end up in a jail cell well there you are. Which is exactly why ‘boy’ in context is so offensive, it signals that the target is simply powerless to counter.

In the seminal western novel ‘The Virginian’ all of the characters swear like, like well like cowboys. And in most cases ‘you son of a bitch!’ is just taken like the modern equivalent of ‘wassup!’ Except in the one case where it almost led to deadly violence and drew the response ‘You better be smiling when you say that’.

Because in the end you can’t extract the intent out of intentionality, the meaning really is in the use. And I suspect everyone in that room understood the intent, the meaning and the usage of ‘boy’. There probably is not a single vulgarism that is not used among peers in a crude but affectionate way, but the key word is ‘peers’. ‘Boy’ is a nominally neutral word that was and in some places is used to verbally mark a presumed imbalance in power. It is the same dynamic that allows the Frat Boy in Chief to publicly call his chief political advisor Turd Blossom. I don’t expect that Karl liked that much but he wasn’t in a position to respond in kind.

Europeans have explicitly recognized this in their language. In French it even has a verb ‘tutoyer’. Who is ‘tu’ to you and who is ‘vous’ to me and vice versa is not just a tongue twister but governs interpersonal relations, there are rules. I don’t know if French jailers typically use ‘tu’ in relation to their prisoners but it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

74

CK Dexter 04.15.08 at 4:49 pm


“pal”… (which means literally “friend” but in the Glaswegian vocative case roughly translates as “O person who I am about to subject to violent attack”

Yikes. I’ll remember that if I’m every in Scotland. Or I’ll remember never to go to Scotland.

“Boy” can be innocuous if used as an affectionate diminutive. Clearly that’s not the case here, and even as an affectionate diminutive, you can only get away with it if the relationship is very close, i.e., romantic (same logic as “baby”), or at most familiar or near-familial (and then usually only parents or parental relationships).

For a stranger or casual aquaintance, it’s clearly demeaning, since it reduces the person to the status of a child, thus a moral inferior. In the context of race (the diminution of an entire people to child status), it’s extraordinarily offensive.

(But it’s worth remembering that most affectionate terms work precisely by using that kind of reduction in a positive, intimate way–diminution isn’t essentially bad.)

75

Matt Weiner 04.15.08 at 4:59 pm

Much like it would to everybody everywhere else if a large politician called Timothy was referred to slyly as a big Tim :)

I give up — what does this mean to everyone everywhere else? (There was at least one American politician called Big Tim — IIRC according to Joseph Mitchell’s profile of Commodore Dutch Big Tim Sullivan was Dutch’s patron before he (Big Tim) went mad.

76

nick l 04.15.08 at 5:50 pm

#58–” I’ve heard the locution ‘that boy’ in the south applied to adult whites, particularly by their elders, at least a few times.”

all right, I have to say it: is it possible, author of #58, that you really don’t understand that if you’d heard adult whites call other younger adult whites “that boy” a MILLION FUCKING TIMES it would prove NOTHING about this episode?

77

"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 6:10 pm

John Emerson, I have no doubt the epithet is categorically condescending. The question, though, is whether it’s categorically racist. And the contention that it is categorically racist would at least seem to be disconfirmed (would it not?) by the fact that it is frequently applied by whites to whites (and, for that matter, by blacks to blacks).

#71, large caps aren’t terribly probative either.

78

"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 6:11 pm

Er, all caps, that is.

79

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 6:13 pm

Q, whatever your discipline is incapacitates you for talking about social questions. Stick to what you’re good at.

80

"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 6:16 pm

And another oops — I meant #76, not #71. Good grief. So much for pithy ripostes.

81

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 6:22 pm

To fill in the blanks: no one said anything about anything being “categorically racist”. What we’ve been saying is it’s racist for an adult white man to refer to an adult black man as “boy”. Beyond that, we’ve been saying that it’s a clear case and not a tough call, and that people who say otherwise are either quibblers, ignorant, crypto-racists, or all three.

No one has said that it’s racist every time one adult calls another adult “boy”. There might even be rare exceptions when an adult white man can jokingly call a an adult black man “boy” without racism, but this is dependent on a well-established close personal relationship of equality and respect between them, which is not the case here.

You also seem to be saying that it’s impossible to understand the meanings of words people say without knowing what’s going on in their minds, but this is a long-refuted fallacy.

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"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 6:23 pm

“Q, whatever your discipline is incapacitates you for talking about social questions. Stick to what you’re good at.”

Oh, very good indeed. That reminds me of that one time when Bill O’Reilly said “shut up!” Not a very good argument, but given the situation, I suppose it’s good advice.

83

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 6:25 pm

I just elucidated, you whiner.

84

Jason 04.15.08 at 6:36 pm

I’ve been reading press coverage, some WashPost articles, about the Obama “bitter” comment, and now I’m reading the comments on these blogs about Davis’ comments. The one thing that strikes me is that, in the anti-Obama remarks I’ve read (not too many pro-Obama commenters), nobody said, “I’m from Geneva/Erie/Gary/Columbus and nobody here is ‘bitter'” underneath George Will or Eugene Robinson. Half the comments I’ve seen on Davis are of the “I’m from KY and you just don’t know how we are down here!” sort. Residents of ‘Tuckys from Pensyl- to Cin- wonder: if that wasn’t a racist statement, maybe Channelock is hiring again? Or the water’s safe to drink in Zelie? Because that would be sweet, and you can’t believe what these “Beltway Insiders” say, wherever this “Beltway” is.

Honestly I’m surprised nobody’s busted out some Naughty By Nature lyrics to impart a weighty “suck on _that_!” air to a comment. “You ain’t never seen Toby Keith at the Crawford County Fair/Don’t ever come to see Toby Keith at the Crawford County Fair/Because you wouldn’t understand Toby Keith at the Crawford County Fair/So stay the…what?/No, I meant that literally/The sound is awful”

85

Gozer 04.15.08 at 6:43 pm

This is like when certain white people somehow can’t understand why Blacks can use a variant of the n-word as a term of affection and they cannot (without getting into the differences between the -er ending and the -a ending). The proper response is always, “why do you even care? Unless you WANT to be able to describe Black people with that word”.

86

The Modesto Kid 04.15.08 at 6:50 pm

No, I meant that literally/The sound is awful

Nice.

87

MR. Bill 04.15.08 at 7:05 pm

Jon h at #67: the ‘fretting’ remark was a quote from an Iglesias commenter, see the post just below, I got the blockquote tags in wrong.

I think we need to know what’s up with this top secret war game stuff, especially if this idiot Davis has blown the lid on something.
The quoted bit was:He said in his remarks at the GOP dinner that he also recently participated in a “highly classified, national security simulation” with Obama.
“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.”

That is troubling. Obama famously failed open on the matter of nuclear attack in an early debate.

He was given a scenario where ships bearing nuclear bombs unexpectedly blew up two major cities. Obama’s response was that as President, he would focus on the 1st Responders, ensuring they had the respurces and tools to cope with “people in need”. The others wisely said they were Commander in Chief, their 1st responsibility was to defend the nation and strike back at the enemy responsible for killing millions of Americans before other American cities were eradiacted. (All while Obama would be fretting about if there would be enough ice and disposable diapers to go around – as firestorms raged, radioactivity spread, and people wondered what city would be nuked next)

These national security exercises include key decision-makers and people considered plausible future decision-makers. Both military, and potential future civilian leaders of the military. With Obama, the odds on favorite to be the next President, an obvious selection

88

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 7:11 pm

Mr. Bill, that is NOT troubling, as I’ve said. What we are dealing with is an unverifiable top-seekrit rumor coming from a hostile partisan source. There’s an enormous possibility or even a probability that it’s a misrepresentation.

89

MR. Bill 04.15.08 at 7:16 pm

Crud John, I’m an idiot. The quote begins at “He said”, and seems to be from that Davis idiot. It’s a major league smear. And if not as awful as the racist use of ‘boy’, it stinks to high heaven. And I agree with your analysis.
I just didn’t understand how tags work here.

90

Roy Belmont 04.15.08 at 7:47 pm

It seems pretty obvious that people get a lot more upset about racist euphemisms than do about the endemic, institutionalized, nearly invisible to all but its victims blatant racism of the current US legal system.
Highest rate in the world and half of them black.
In the US is criminal justice is so racistly racially skewed that eight years ago HRW said “One in ten black men in their twenties and early thirties is in prison or jail”. These last eight years have seen no light fall on those dark chambers.
Yet this active racially injust violence is far less immediately offensive than referring to a high-profile political candidate as “That boy”.
I’m not talking about how upset you get when it’s brought to your attention that blacks are getting locked up in numbers that are a kind of low-grade pogrom, I’m talking about that it’s there all the time, it was there before Davis’ inane faux pas and it’s there right now, and it looks to going to be there for some time still. Plus the extenuating damage of decades of many of the strongest and most fit of a subculture’s young men twisted up in the ghastly machinery of the privatized prison system.
But it isn’t really about racial justice and social equality and human rights, it’s about being comfortable. And objecting to racist language in public makes us feel better about ourselves. As does the caging of dangerous young black males, though we’ll go far to avoid having to admit that.

91

Markup 04.15.08 at 7:52 pm

There is no absolute racism in the use of “boy,” thought the utterer left little wiggle room given the audience and context. But there is a little. Just as “good ol” can modify “boy,” in this case “boy” modifies “finger on the button” possibly in several ways. I know it’s shocking to some that there are still racists and racial overtones in this day and age, and as sad and often pathetic as it is, it is, and has been for oh, about as long as we’ve been able to distinguish between the others, wherever they come from or however they look. Like that old parable thingy where one turns the other cheek, a slap is only an insult if the slapped one allows it to be, otherwise it’s generally just a sign of fear and ignorance.

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"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 8:07 pm

John Emerson, I’m totally sympathetic with the idea that some arguments aren’t worth engaging seriously. And since I’m epistemically fallibilist, I’m quite open to the possibility that my comment belongs in that category. So I’m completely comfortable with submitting on my posting and leaving others to dispose of it as they will (however decoratively).

That being said, since (if only between snarky bookends) you’ve given an “elucidation” (which, counter to said snark, signals your interest to engage my comment seriously), I’ll respond.

Let’s take two cases. First, the charges of racism recently lodged against Bill Clinton for his “fairytale” remark about Obama, and his subsequent comparison of Obama’s success in South Carolina’s to Jesse Jackson’s. I’d say these charges were clearly unjustified.

Second, Trent Lott’s pining for the halcyon days’ of Strom Thurmond’s presidential candidacy. I’d say this charge was clearly justified.

What’s crucial here is that my judgment in both cases wasn’t based merely on the content of what was being said; it was also informed by my background knowledge of the persons who were doing the saying, and of the conditions under which they were doing the saying. (It was, if you will, based on a justified theory about “what was going on in their minds.”)

In the instant case, I don’t feel I know enough about Davis to draw similarly justified conclusions. I simply don’t agree that the form of what he said, and the gross conditions under which he said it, justifies the serious charge of racism (though clearly it engenders reasonable suspicions, about which Davis should be pressed). To the extent that it’s only my baleful cultural ignorance that makes me so pathologically reluctant, I think it’s a cultural ignorance quite likely shared by many who are now self-righteously piling on, for whom (it seems to me) a quantum of circumspection would do some good.

Last word’s yours if you want it.

93

Hogan 04.15.08 at 8:35 pm

I have no doubt the epithet is categorically condescending. The question, though, is whether it’s categorically racist.

Aggressive condescension is one of the non-lethal ways that Southern racism has historically operated.

94

lemuel pitkin 04.15.08 at 8:40 pm

Hogan-

Right. What “q” is doing is the same willful blindess game that people alwyas play around Ameircan racism — that unless it’s 100% pure, unadulterated, absolutely unambiguous bigotry, it isn’t racism. Which means for folks like “q”, racism might exist in the abstract but never in any particular case, because the standard of proof he demands is impossible to meet.

95

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 8:40 pm

The background knowledge is that it’s a white Southerner talking to other white southerners about a black man to who he is not at all friendly. No other information is needed. Understanding that is pretty much essential to being competent to talk about racism in any context, including American politics. It’s intro level. Your “not knowing enough” is a fact about you, not a fact about Davis or about what Davis said.

Your ruinous methodology would simply rule out any discussion of racist (and other) “dog-whistle” messages, which are meant to be heard only by the few, and also would rule out instantly-disavowed “planting the seed” messages, which get the message out there — things like “I wouldn’t go sao far as to say that Obama is a Marxist [or Muslim]”. (Examples not involving Obama are easily found, and it isn’t just about racism and sexism that these games are played.)

I believe that I am correct that it’s your methodology which incapacitates you for this kind of discussion. Whether or not the far-fetched hypotheticals, counterfactual assumptions, and abstruse quibbles characteristic of analytic philosophy are intrinsically valuable in their own terms, they wreak havoc on real-world discussions. In a real-world context, arguing about whether it’s racist for a white man to refer to a black man as “boy” is ignorant. The fact that the ignorance is shared is not a defense.

96

nick s 04.15.08 at 9:12 pm

Kevin Drum used to have the dumbest trolls in the US/liberal/political blog world, but I think it’s a toss-up between Yglesias and Klein these days. Why Yglesias has become a place for neo-racists like Sailer, I do not know.

97

"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 9:18 pm

John, do you think your claim that my “ruinous methodology would simply rule out any discussion of racist (and other) ‘dog-whistle’ messages” squares with my conclusion in the Trent Lott case?

98

Righteous Bubba 04.15.08 at 9:20 pm

Q, there may be a point past which nobody cares what you think.

99

"Q" the Enchanter 04.15.08 at 9:24 pm

Righteous bubba, I think that point came just about right before I posted my first comment. Good piling on, though.

100

Righteous Bubba 04.15.08 at 9:28 pm

Good piling on, though.

No problem. You can count on people like me to pick on only the most obvious losing arguments.

101

abb1 04.15.08 at 9:32 pm

This Davis guy sounds like an archie-bunker-style ignorant fool. Sure, let’s call him racist, but then how do we classify a neonazi skinhead?

102

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 9:32 pm

Openly endorsing a past segregationist third party campaign is not “dog whistle”.

Q, the intellectual tools you are deploying may or may not be useful in some other context, but they just confuse the issue here. I cannot imagine a person who would come up wiser for having read your comments here, but I can easily imagine a weak-minded person who would come up stupider.

103

Don Williams 04.15.08 at 9:34 pm

Re john emerson’s comment “The background knowledge is that it’s a white Southerner talking to other white southerners about a black man to who he is not at all friendly. No other information is needed”————-

1) How about the information that John Emerson evidently can’t read a map? Is that relevent?

2) As I noted over on the Yglesias thread, my family has been in Kentucky for 200 years and i had ancestors who fought on the Union side. The Kentucky legislature elected in 1861 was overwhelming Pro-Union , ordered the Confederate—but not Union—forces out of Kentucky and raised the Union flag over the state capital.
It had more men killed in the Union Army than Connecticut or New Hampshire.
See citations here:
http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/04/integrity.php#comment-1872783

3) Moreover, Geoff Davis’s District borders on Indiana and Ohio across the river. That’s Midwest,not South. Although if it helps you rationalize your prejudices, redraw the map.

104

sglover 04.15.08 at 9:39 pm

I think the bullshit is really flowing fast and deep lately.

The other day, on C-SPAN, I heard that weasel-faced fuck Russert yammer on because Obama used the word “burden” to describe the plight of a 16-year-old mother. More recently, there’s been the usual juvenile “elitist” charge, because Obama dared to use the words “bitterness” and “cling” in remarks that were pretty commonsensical.

I have to say that this outrage about the word “boy” strikes me as pretty much the same kind of bullshit. Yeah, “boy” has been used to denigrate blacks. But it’s also pretty commonly used as a synonym of “guy” or even “thing” (“Gimme the wrench so I can tighten this boy up.”)

Let’s quit with the Thought Police-style mindreading, shall we?

105

sglover 04.15.08 at 9:43 pm

yeah, well I’m amazed that you’re amazed…no, that’s a lie. but I was actually surprised to see people straight-up defending the use of “boy” to an adult black man as not necessarily racist. it’s like olde timey racism from the days of yore.

Oh jeez. You really need to get out of whatever cloister you’re in.

106

Righteous Bubba 04.15.08 at 9:51 pm

But it’s also pretty commonly used as a synonym of “guy” or even “thing” (“Gimme the wrench so I can tighten this boy up.”)

So it’s possible that Obama was being referred to as you would a hinge or a q-tip?

107

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 9:52 pm

“Southerner” is a pretty flexible term, and I don’t give a shit about your ancestors. Kentucky isn’t Midwestern, period. It was a slaveholding state and sent troops to both sides.

Sglover — you’re full of shit, boy.

108

sglover 04.15.08 at 9:54 pm

And rememebr, if it’s not perfectly cut-and-dried, there’s nothing there. This is the kind of willed stupidity that makes racism such an impossible subject to talk about.

Uh huh. But endless semantic haggles about who can and who can’t use this turn of phrase or that in good faith — why, that sort of parsing nuance and intention really furthers the dialogue.

Man, I always roll my eyes when a Limbaugh clone yammers on about “Political Correctness”, but I gotta say, this thread almost makes those gasbags look astute.

109

sglover 04.15.08 at 9:56 pm

Sglover—you’re full of shit, boy.

I’m convinced!

You gonna tell me you have NEVER encountered the usages I mention? Since you’re such an expert on being full of shit, and so forth….

110

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 9:57 pm

What are your sources of information, Glover? Others here know how the word “boy” is used based on experience. How do you know that they are wrong?

You’re not another goddamn analytic philosopher, are you?

111

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 10:02 pm

Glover, it’s been explained above, at great length, in what context those usages are not racist. (above all, they’re not racist when addressed to a white man, though there’s more). Someone above said exactly what you said, and we explained things to him.

As explained, your “mind reading” dig is all wrong. we’re talking about meaning and usage.

112

Don Williams 04.15.08 at 10:05 pm

Re John Emerson “You’re not another goddamn analytic philosopher, are you?
————
Well, you clearly are not.

Otherwise you would not have said that Kentucky sent troops to both sides of the Civil War.

The General Assembly elected by the people of Kentucky was OVERWHELMING pro-Union, ordered the Confederacy to pull its troops out of Kentucky , and sent its men to the UNION Army , NOT to the Confederacy.

The fact that a small minority of Kentuckians deserted to the Confederacy is irrelevent. By your weasel-wording measure, the USA “contributed troops” to Al Qaeda because of John Walker Lindh and a few others.

113

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 10:12 pm

How small a minority? The government was divided and the COnfederates boycotted after a certain point. Are you saying that almost none of them fought the Confederacy? My reference said that in Kentucky it was brother against brother.

In any case Kentuckians know enough of Southern ways to know what “boy” means in reference to a black guy.

114

UNE_NegroFascist 04.15.08 at 10:13 pm

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Q is a white guy.

No other possible explanation for his lack of imagination.

While it is possible that Davis is not himself “explicitly” racist, he certainly knows, and willingly, used dog whistle language to refer to Obama. No. Doubt. About. It.

115

MR. Bill 04.15.08 at 10:16 pm

Don Williams @104: this is not about geography, but a sort of cultural “South”. The ‘South’ is not just an area, it’s a culture and a mindset. See J.W. Cash’s The Mind of the South
Areas that were not good for the Confederacy during the War between the States have been swallowed up inC the southern mindset: ‘not Yankees’, ‘country folk’, Commercial Country Music, ‘real americans’ (i.e. white), with a dose of hellraising and NASCAR.
I live a part of Georgia that was often antiConfederate (the next county over is called Union, for that reason) but now proudly waves the Stars and Bars. I’ve seen similar Dixification of Kentucky and West Virginia (! in a real historical irony) as well as southern Illinois and Indiana.
It’s a false history, the moonlight and magnolia’s myths of a lost Country of Cavaliers, and happy darkies singin’…It finds its clearest expression in the racist romance novel
Gone with the Wind and it’s movie version. The real history was bad, one of the long sellout of Blacks by Northern politicians as the South imposed the Jim Crow and Lynching eras, and the economic Bourbons made corrupt deals with the Northern Financial interests. By flogging these myth, aided and abetted by popular culture, a White identity politics is the basis of the Conservative movement in much of the country, precisely what Obama stumbled on in his ‘guns and religion’ speech.. It’s bigoted and reactionary. And it’s what Mr. Davis is selling.

116

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 10:26 pm

One area around here was settled by Kentucky Unionists who decided they didn’t really want to go home. It’s the only Baptist church around.

117

Don Williams 04.15.08 at 10:31 pm

Re John Emerson’s comment “The [Civil War] government [of Kentucky] was divided ”
————
NO, It was NOT.
Read my lips.

Kentucky tried to mediate and head off the Civil War. ONCE the war started, the 1861 elections returned a Kentucky legislature in which PRO-UNION delegates outnumbered Confederate sympathizers 76–24 in the House and 27–11 in the Senate. That’s probably better than what you could get in the US Congress today.

See .e.g,.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kentucky_in_the_American_Civil_War#Elections_of_1861

118

anonymous 04.15.08 at 10:35 pm

Oh please don’t lay q’s quibbling on analytic philosophy. Most of us practitioners of the craft have a rather better appreciation of the limits of counterfactuals.

119

jdkbrown 04.15.08 at 10:38 pm

Sglover:

The whole point is that it doesn’t *take* mind reading to reasonably infer racism in Davis’s comment.

See Holbo’s Comment #10.

120

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 10:39 pm

Don, Confederate sympathizers boycotted that election. That’s the reason for the lopsided margins. I sincerely doubt that the boycotting Kentuckians ended up deciding to support the Union, or even to stay neutral.

The population was divided.

But Confederate sentiment was still high in Kentucky after the war. The Kentucky General Assembly failed to ratify either the 13th Amendment; the 14th, which gave equal protection under the law to blacks; or the 15th, which gave African Americans the right to vote.

http://www.ket.org/civilwar/kyrole.html

121

Righteous Bubba 04.15.08 at 10:40 pm

The whole point is that it doesn’t take mind reading to reasonably infer racism in Davis’s comment.

I’m impressed that so many books and movies are instantly rendered that much less comprehensible.

Also: “love” is a score in tennis.

122

mollymooly 04.15.08 at 10:41 pm

In Cork, plain vocative “boy” is standard-issue male bonding. Hence the story of the Corkman cheerily entering a bar on his first day in Americay and saying “how’ye, boy!” to the African American bartender, with unspecified hilarious consequences.

123

Slothrop 04.15.08 at 10:46 pm

I’ve been reading press coverage, some WashPost articles, about the Obama “bitter” comment, and now I’m reading the comments on these blogs about Davis’ comments. The one thing that strikes me is that, in the anti-Obama remarks I’ve read (not too many pro-Obama commenters), nobody said, “I’m from Geneva/Erie/Gary/Columbus and nobody here is ‘bitter’” underneath George Will or Eugene Robinson. Half the comments I’ve seen on Davis are of the “I’m from KY and you just don’t know how we are down here!” sort.

That’s because there wasn’t a degenerating wave of ignorance lashed at Pennsylvania in the wake of those comments. According to many judgmental commenters here, everyone in the South sits around listening to Toby Keith with a heart that is filled with hate. I’ve somehow lost all hope that many here will see the irony in their “fight intolerance with intolerance” attitudes. Perhaps you guys are jealous at Southerners’ superiority in their ways of charming your ladies ;)

By the way, hypersensitivity to racial issues isn’t appreciated by most black people I know. It has demeaning undertones that you think they need your high and mighty help. Just sayin’.

124

Matt Weiner 04.15.08 at 10:47 pm

Kentucky didn’t secede, but it passed Jim Crow laws immediately after the Civil War — an anti-miscegenation law in 1866, a passel of segregation laws shortly thereafter. As late as 1960 it apparently required that candidates’ races be given on ballots.

125

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 10:51 pm

According to many judgmental commenters here, everyone in the South sits around listening to Toby Keith.

Do you have something against Toby Keith, motherfucker? Curb your own prejudice!

126

Markup 04.15.08 at 10:52 pm

Aggressive condescension is one of the non-lethal ways that Southern racism has historically operated.

Of course that works for Northern racism, Mid-Western, South-Western, North-Western, Western, Pacific Islander and a few others as well. Following the Y2K census the top 5 most segregated cities were, in order, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and Newark, NJ. … odd that southern aggressive stuff.

127

John Emerson 04.15.08 at 10:53 pm

Heard the one about Senator Byrd? Coming right up!

128

seth edenbaum 04.15.08 at 10:53 pm

This shit’s more about ego than logic, but the references to Hollywood film and Simon and Garfunkel are funny.
“In Bangladesh we learn about America from the movies”
“I’m American and so do we!!”

A bunch of white people one-upping each other to prove their love for negroes. And of course they do the same for Jews. The Palestinians just can’t wait for their turn. Rilly.

Davis is a putz and racist or not, his comments can be read that way, easily. His defenders are digging the hole he put himself in, deeper and deeper. That’s funny.

J. Holbo: “s.e.: ‘Tell me how that makes sense, unless you’re a mind reader or assume all white southern men are racist?’
It works the way language works generally.”

What context? from you?
You’ve come a long way baby.
If only.

129

Slothrop 04.15.08 at 11:00 pm

touche, John E. @ 123! my house is glass, indeed.

130

UNE_NegroFascist 04.15.08 at 11:10 pm

Hmmmm an earlier comment seems to not have made it through moderation……

3) Moreover, Geoff Davis’s District borders on Indiana and Ohio across the river. That’s Midwest,not South. Although if it helps you rationalize your prejudices, redraw the map.

As a Black man living in southern Indiana, I can regretfully state that racism does not stop at the Tennessee Kentucky border.

I occasionally state that Indiana is the Northern most state south of the Mason Dixon line. Experience tells me that actually rural areas of Michigan could easily fit the bill.

131

Markup 04.15.08 at 11:21 pm

”Heard the one about Senator Byrd?”

Byrd and Rocky; what more could a state wish for?

132

Jimmy James 04.16.08 at 12:00 am

Calling an adult black male boy is as racist as you can get. I’m white and from Texas. I’ve been called boy by my white friends and called my white male friends boy, but I wouldn’t dare call a black man boy. Words are context sensitive. This isn’t new, and neither is the rule about not calling black men “boy”.

133

snuh 04.16.08 at 1:13 am

it is said of kentucky that it was the only state to join the confederacy after the civil war. the metadata of the website of rebel yell whisky informs us that “Rebel Yell, the Spirit of the South, is a fine, wheated, straight bourbon whiskey created from a traditional Kentucky recipe to be enjoyed by all.”

but snark aside, i’m not sure why a state has to have been in the confederacy to be considered part of “the south”. by way of example, is west virginia a southern state? of course it is.

134

Markup 04.16.08 at 1:25 am

This may cheer some of you up.

http://www.tothepointnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3114&Itemid=76

Having lived in over 1/2 the states of the “old south,” the most “southern” state I’ve ever lived in, in context to this thread is Indiana. Post war migrants I suppose.

135

roger 04.16.08 at 1:37 am

I’m amazed so many people are going on about saying the way Southerners talk. Davis was born in Montreal Canada. If he was inclined to say good old boy, it would probably come out more like mon vieux.

What his voice pattern seems to be like normally is reproduced in this story about him in the Cincinnati paper from the last race he ran, back in 2006:

One student wanted to know what President Bush was like.

“He’s a real guy,” Geoff Davis assured his young audience at St. Agnes School in Fort Wright. “Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, he’s genuine. He’s real.”

Another wanted to know whether Davis himself would like to be president someday. “No,” came the congressman’s quick reply.”

This is not a man who says Bush is a good old boy. I’ve lived in the South most of my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Southerner – of the type that says Good old boy – say, he’s a real guy. That’s very Yankee. It is truly not too hard to see that Davis is consciously mimicking a Southernism by using the word boy with Obama, but couching it in such a way as to retain deniability. This isn’t really that hard to see, unless you are trying awful hard not to see it.

136

Jason 04.16.08 at 1:53 am

By the way, hypersensitivity to racial issues isn’t appreciated by most black people I know. It has demeaning undertones that you think they need your high and mighty help. Just sayin’.

You know actual for-real black people? I appreciate your concern for their feelings. I actually don’t know any, so maybe that’s why I don’t care so much about, y’know, how black people are/aren’t pissed about some dipshit racist comment, as I am amazed that some regions of the country get to help the black people so much by going to the internet and sticking up for them by pointing out how nobody’s like that round _here_ anymore etc. I wish we had black people up here. Then we could defend ourselves, too.

But there’s less chromium in our watersheds and Presque Isle Bay is no longer full of human waste. So I guess we’re on the long road to recovery. But not quite to the point where we’re able to say “it’s not like that around here anymore.” Or where we get to say it. Much like with your black friends, other people handle it for us.

We find it a bit sad that people that are suddenly very concerned about the feelings of us hard-working midwesterners, but aren’t sending us envelopes full of cash. So the point was that we up here in the “north” (-west Pennsylvania) ain’t too proud to beg. In other words, while everybody’s been expressing their hard-core concern for us working-class Rustbelt types – don’t worry, no demeaning undertones there! – nobody actually lives here, and we’d _love_ their high and mighty help. Tens and twenties, please.

Funny though – people up here do actually sit around listening to Toby Keith. Is that bad? You make it sound like a bad thing.

137

seth edenbaum 04.16.08 at 2:20 am

“i’m not sure why a state has to have been in the confederacy to be considered part of “the south.”

I spent a year in Bloomington Indiana. Story had it the Ku Klux Klan had been founded in Martinsville, 10 miles to the north.

138

nick l 04.16.08 at 2:32 am

so, belle, if you were hoping for a swift and straightforward compare & contrast re. commenters here and there……..wow. what a shambles. emerson fights fiercely, but appears outnumbered and beset…..

139

Hogan 04.16.08 at 2:43 am

Aggressive condescension is one of the non-lethal ways that Southern racism has historically operated.

Of course that works for Northern racism,

Nah, draft and race riots are more our style. We tend not to go on and on about how we understand our nigras better than anyone else and used to love our mammies.

140

david 04.16.08 at 2:47 am

West Virginia is a mountain state, not a southern state. It is also almost heavan. Ignorant bastards all around, must make the almost.

As a southerner after a fashion, Toby Keith sucks. It’s not prejudice, it’s taste.

141

Markup 04.16.08 at 3:22 am

We tend not to go on and on…

In deference to any offense to any and all other Leporidae, on and on and on and……..

142

Doctor Slack 04.16.08 at 4:55 am

By the way, hypersensitivity to racial issues isn’t appreciated by most black people I know.

If you imagine distaste for being called “boy” is “hypersensitivity to racial issues,” you’re either bullshitting and don’t know any black people, or you’re one of these. Hate to break it to you, buddy.

143

ajay 04.16.08 at 10:40 am

75: Much like it would to everybody everywhere else if a large politician called Timothy was referred to slyly as a big Tim :)
I give up—what does this mean to everyone everywhere else?

In Glaswegian slang a Tim is a moderately insulting term for Catholic. I don’t know the derivation. A Billy is a Protestant (presumably from the Protestant King Billy, aka William III, formerly William of Orange) but that’s not so widely used. The equivalent in Norn Iron is “Taig” (rhymes with Hague) and “Prod” respectively.

144

ajay 04.16.08 at 10:45 am

Or, of course, “Fenian”.

145

Matt Weiner 04.16.08 at 12:18 pm

Ah thanks.

Here at the neglected end of the thread I can tell my international slang miscommunication — I was in Australia for the World Cup and I told people that since the US wasn’t in it of course I’d root for Australia, to which their response was “Not with me you don’t.”

(Well not really, they laughingly explained what I’d done wrong, but my version is funnier.)

146

Alex 04.16.08 at 12:25 pm

“He’s a real guy,” Geoff Davis assured his young audience at St. Agnes School in Fort Wright. “Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, he’s genuine. He’s real.”

Now there’s some seriously bad news.

147

MR. Bill 04.16.08 at 1:10 pm

Olive branch? not laurel or myrtle?

148

Jacob Christensen 04.16.08 at 1:39 pm

From a non-English perspective I’d say that the intention behind using the word boy looks pretty obvious. For equally obvious reasons, the Scandinavian languages have no perfect parallels, although you should not call someone with a Turkish or Asian background perker (Danish) or blatte (Swedish).

I can think of one case where a group deliberately have chosen a diminutive description of themselves: The members of the now-defunct Kvindeligt Arbejderforbund (the Trade Union for Unskilled Women – the only all-female union in the world afaik) called themselves pigerne (could be translated as “the maids” or “the girls”), not kvinderne and definitively not damerne.

149

ajay 04.16.08 at 2:46 pm

145: very good.

Apparently a real speech from the Australian Federal Parliament, by a member of parliament for a rural area:

— “I am a country member. I was elected as a country member, and I will always be a country member.”

— “Yeah, mate, we remember.”

150

Katherine 04.16.08 at 4:34 pm

Someone said above: “I don’t think any British people would get the history of boy intuitively, and here it just seems a bit bizarre, not racist.”

Nuh-huh. Speaking as a British person who has set foot in the US exactly once in my life, it’s perfectly obvious that this was racist. In fact, it is so obviously known, mostly through popular culture (ie the TV), that I’d dare anyone to go to Brixton and call a black man there “boy” and see what happens.

151

Brownie 04.16.08 at 4:42 pm

I was working on an IT project in South Africa at the end of the 90s. Over there, what we (at least in the UK) call floppy disks (the 3-and-a-half inch variety), they refer to as “stiffys”. The 5-and-a-quarter inch truly floppy disks are “floppys”.

Foschini merchandiser: “David, have you got a stiffy?”

Me: “Well, I think you’re very attractive….”

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