Friday, September 5, 2008

"Uppity" white men

I mean, look at him... the cut of the face, the concentrated seriousness of that noble brow.

Images like this one is what makes the term "uppity cracker,"well, a term that is not used by anyone anywhere ever.

Images and ideologies -- historical belief systems -- that define whiteness -- or what it means to be white -- for the world make the term "uppity white man/woman" an oxymoron.

What does it mean to be white? 
And to pose an even more pressing question:
Can Al Gore be accurately described as an "uppity cracker?"
First, an explanation of where all this uppity cracker stuff is comin' from, 
and where I'm headed.
In the process of cruisin' the blogosphere -- checkin' out what's interesting, new, and intelligent in the world of social justice seekers:) -- I came across a blog discussing media and public critics use of the term "elitist" and "uppity" to describe Barack Obama.

I was thoroughly ticked off by a commentator who seemed to enter the conversation on this particular blog as s/he seemed to to do so only to disrupt the blogger's attempt to express her views, and engage an audience who was, at the very least, respectful and willing to hear (read) those views. Because this blogger is a woman of color, I am particular supportive of her effort to carve out space in the public sphere so that her voice, her views would be heard by someone, anyone, other than herself.

In any case, her blog made me think. (A dangerous project, I know:)

I wondered why  the term "elitist" and "uppity" has NEVER -- NOT ONCE -- been used to by the white media and the white public to describe the attitude of a white man campaigning for the presidency (socialist, communist, and anarchist discourse notwithstanding:)? (Or, to my knowledge, any white male politician for that matter).

Pre-"Inconvenient Truth" Al Gore provides THE PERFECT EXAMPLE.

In the 2000 presidential race,
Al Gore was called "stiff," "boring," "vanilla" (a term that has a racial connotation), "robotic," "stuffed shirt," "contrived." Gore (and Dukakis, for example) were called "arrogant" -- but never EVER "uppity".

NOT ONCE did anyone call Al Gore an "elitist" (a characteristic I believe is expressed in both his manner and politics) -- NO ONE EVER called Al Gore "uppity."

It doesn't take much intellectual work to explain why Al Gore was
*not* called "elitist" or "uppity." It is perfectly acceptable for a white man -- in fact, it is expected of white men -- to be "clean" and  "articulate" (my oh my how Senator Biden has changed his tune) carry themselves with confidence, to take up space when they speak, to "win" arguments rather than listen and consider a variety of truths/viewpoints -- in white men, arrogance  and righteousness is not necessarily a personal flaw. White men who *don't* project these traits -- white men who listen more than they speak, who consider a variety of view points (particularly those of white women and people of color), white men who are quiet or shy or emotional -- they are frequently derided as non-men, or at best, not masculine. They are "pussies," and "fags" and "sissies" and "wusses" -- (incidentally, these are the kind of white men I call friends:).

Millionaire white men occupying and/or pursuing powerful and prestigious offices in government and business, most especially, are expected to exude the kind of confidence, even arrogance, that conveys a sense of superiority over others. If they didn't, voters (of all races) might feel they can't trust the person to do a job that makes them the most powerful person in the entire world.

On the other hand, the bodies and beings of men and women of color irrespective of class, particularly blacks and Latino/as, are targets for the worst racist projections of both white folks and other people of color. Media representations of blacks and Latino/as have become slightly more diverse in the 2000's-- particularly in TV crime dramas where black & Latino/a actors play lawyers, judges, District Attorneys  -- the vast majority of East Asian, and especially South Asian, Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and indigenous "Americans" actors play rigidly racist stereotypical roles as hyper-sexual "geishas" or concubines, "DragonLady's," terrorists, and war-paint, loin cloth wearing savages and remain marginalized or entirely invisible in pop culture. Blacks and Latino/as are expected to be "welfare mothers" and "gang bangers" (images of browns & blacks that, regrettably, presidential hopeful Barack Obama invoked in his historic "race speech" to describe *some* of the African American members of the congregation in his church -- more on this in another blog) -- criminals, rapists, drug addicts -- stations in life, ways of being that are a far cry from "clean" and "articulate" black men many whites consider aberrations, black men like Barack Obama.

The standard used (both consciously and unconsciously) to determining a person's cleanliness and articulateness is raced, classed and gendered: white middle and upper class men. White people living in no and low-income communities are imagined as "white trash" -- a detestable classist and racist term (because a white person's impoverishment means that they aren't doing "white" right -- that is, they are assumed to be poor because they are unintelligent, uneducated, unambitious and they're poverty calls their morals into question. Their impoverishment soils and degrades the natural purity of their whiteness. Moreover, there is no comparable term for describing/designating black and brown people -- people from these racial groups don't need to be called "black trash" or "brown trash" because nigger and spic is sufficiently descriptive and condemning. Interestingly, the white middle/upper class man's sexual identity does not necessarily factor into whether or not he is seen as "clean" and "articulate." Heterosexuals use a white man's "cleanliness," at the very least, to determine whether or not he's gay (like Will, and even Jack -- a character I regard as a clean, gay buffoon, and thus, a gay minstrel character - from the show "Will and Grace") -- one of those stereotypes that seem positive (like the the one about all "Asians" being geniuses) that are insidiously destructive because of their very real institutional impact on the communities to which they directly refer and indirectly define (as anti-intellectual, unambitious/lazy, self-destructive societal leeches).

I will end where I began.

White folks don't get called "uppity cracker" -- if the term doesn't upset you, you might find it ridiculous or funny.
Precisely because it has no meaning; the term "uppity cracker" has never, and will never define white people.

For blacks, allies of color, and white allies -- the term "uppity nigger" is worse than insulting, and if not hurtful, deeply offensive.

No white person -- no person -- can use the term "uppity" to describe a person of color without implying what is unspoken: nigger.

Whether the speak means to say:

That nigger doesn't know her place.

That nigger is out of place. (Like Barack Obama.)

That word "uppity" will always mean that same awful, horrible, degrading, dehumanizing thing.

1 comment:

Joy said...

There are so many racial dynamics in the labeling of Obama as elitist. First, it's like describing people of color as articulate, as though the describer does not expect them to be.

Secondly, because of society and the media's tokenism of people of color, public figures and politicians of color are almost forced to over compensate for their middle-classness in order to not be marginalized as poor, uneducated, and/or "ghetto". However, society still expects Obama to act in a "certain way" because of his ethnic background.

See Kenji Yoshino's book "Covering" for an explanation of covering [a form of assimilation] and reverse covering.