Racist Remarks: It’s All About the Context

The Internet is all abuzz over Pat Buchanan referring to President Obama as “your boy” during his August 2nd appearance on MSNBC’s ‘The Al Sharpton Show.’ Sharpton and Buchanan were discussing the debt ceiling bill when the following exchange occurred:

Buchanan: And let me tell you, your boy, Barack Obama, caved in on it in 2010 and he’ll cave in on it again.

Sharpton: My what? My president Barack Obama? What did you say?

Buchanan: He’s your boy in the ring, he’s your fighter.

Sharpton: He’s nobody’s boy. He’s your president and he’s our president. And that’s what y’all have got to get through your head.

The next morning on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ Buchanan was forced to clarify his controversial remarks. He said the following:

I was asked who was the big losers in these battles and the big winners, and I said one of the big losers, using boxing terminology, was ‘your boy,’ and I meant the president of the United States,” he said. “Rev. Sharpton said my boy is the president of the United States and he’s doing a rope-a-dope in the Ali fashion and he’s going to finish off your crowd. Now this was taken, some folks took what I said as some kind of slur. None was meant, none was intended, none was delivered, for the record.

Buchanan has walked the almost racist/racist fine line many times throughout his career. He has yet to step over it, but he has come very close.

Crossing the Line

It’s that coming close part which makes it hard to concretely decide whether someone’s comments have been misinterpreted; is a sign of cultural cluelessness or just simply racist.

Maybe Buchanan used “your boy” in reference to Sharpton’s support for Obama. It is a phrase that is used mostly by guys when they’re talking about someone’s friend or someone they respect. It is also an expression used to show dislike for that person or that they’re not a close friend. Others have chimed in that its just a phrase – that since Buchanan said “your boy” not “boy” therefore he was not implying anything. It was just words.

Nevertheless, when Buchanan uttered that phrase it took on another tone for many people. The tone of white men who for centuries treated and viewed adult black men as children. Maybe that’s not what Buchanan meant, but given his past oratorical miscues and racial tone-deafness over the decades he has been been called a bigot, a racist and an anti-semite.

Some will say Buchanan is not a racist because he’s never called anyone a n*gger. That may be true, but there are other words that may not be as incendiary, but they still do harm or cause anger.

Dealing With the Filter

As an African-American I have lost count on how many times a  white person has said that I was ‘articulate’ or ‘well-spoken’ in a surprising tone, even after they know I went to college. How the hell am I supposed to sound?! Whenever I hear those descriptions my eyes squint and I gnash my teeth. I never acknowledge the so-called compliment because I find it insulting. Yet, when I have tried to explain my thoughts on the matter to white people most simply don’t get it. I’m sure they thought I was being overly sensitive.

Racism can still be overt, but is is mostly subtle now; sometimes almost opaque. Throwing down the so-called race card on someone truly depends on the context and the individual(s) involved. Once you have determined that you were the victim of a racist remark you have other filters you have to go through.  Has this person said questionable things to you or others before? How does he/she react around other non-whites? Will he/she realize that what they said upset you? Should you let this person know that they’ve offended you? Will they care? Should you even bother?

This type of filtering has led to reclassification of some formerly racist remarks to be viewed as misinterpretations and the person who made the remark to simply be seen as culturally clueless in a Pollyanna sort of way.

So – basically as long as you don’t say the n-word your borderline racist comment(s) will get a pass. Just ask Pat Buchanan, he is the master (pun intended) of such things.

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