The Charged, Hateful Language Of Election 2008

10/17/2008 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

"Hey, nigger, why don't you go back to the cotton field where you belong?"

"They're waiting for you in the jungles, black boy!"

"Hey snowflake, which one of those white boys' wives are you dating tonight?"

"We don't want you here, nigger."

"Go back to the bushes!"

According to an account from the book, "Jackie Robinson: A biography" by Arnold Rampersad, this is just a small sampling of the verbal abuse unleashed on Jackie Robinson during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1947, Robinson's first year in the major leagues. And that was from the Phillies players themselves, from the dugout during his first at-bat. But Robinson had to endure the abuse without showing his anger, without lashing back, lest he "prove" that blacks couldn't control themselves, lest he lose this opportunity for every person of color in America. Here is what Robinson said about that day:

I felt tortured and I tried just to play ball and ignore the insults...But it was really getting to me. What did the Phillies want from me? What, indeed, did Mr. Rickey expect of me? I was, after all, a human being...For one wild and rage-crazed minute I thought, 'To hell with Mr. Rickey's noble experiment'...To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create. Could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist. Then I could walk away from it all.

But Robinson did not lash back, at least not in the way most would have. Indeed that day, the Dodgers won that game 1 - 0, with the lone run being scored by guess who? Jackie Robinson.

So fast forward sixty-one years later and you would think such ugly racial language wouldn't be a problem any more. You would think that a Black man or woman could be breaking barriers (well we would hope their weren't any more barriers) without having to carry the same kind of group weight that Jackie Robinson had to hold up so many years ago.

Well, we would think so and we would have hoped so, but we would be wrong. Sure it is true that in 2008 racists have become much more sneaky about their language. Now the words are much more coded. Now they say things like this:

Obama has 'a pair of lips so large he could float half of Cuba to the shores of Miami (and probably would).

This was said by the leader of a statewide group of college Republicans in Pennsylvania. You can read the full article here.

Or they use the term "uppity" so much that they you would think they didn't realize we were all hip to its real meaning.


The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Rick Goddard, a retired Air Force major general running against conservative Dem Congressman Jim Marshall, referred in a radio appearance to "a very uppity newscaster" who had a testy TV exchange with Newt Gingrich at the Republican Convention. This appeared to be a reference to MSNBC reporter Ron Allen, who is black.

The Goddard campaign didn't deny that he was discussing Ron Allen, telling the Journal-Constitution that Goddard "simply evoked a word -- that by definition -- described the reporter's demeanor as being superior, arrogant and presumptuous."

This comes after Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) told The Hill that he believed both Barack and Michelle Obama were "uppity," then denied that there was any racial connotation to the word.

Today's racists also do such things as manufacture and sell "Obama Waffles," a box of waffle-mix recently sold at the conservative Values Voter Summit by entrepreneurs Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss that featured caricatures of Obama in "Muslim" attire and writing they thought was funny but was clearly intended make fun of Black, Mexican and Muslim cultures and people. This is from the AP story on the enterprise:

While Obama Waffles takes aim at Obama's politics by poking fun at his public remarks and positions on issues, it also plays off the old image of the pancake-mix icon Aunt Jemima, which has been widely criticized as a demeaning stereotype. Obama is portrayed with popping eyes and big, thick lips as he stares at a plate of waffles and smiles broadly.

Placing Obama in Arab-like headdress recalls the false rumor that he is a follower of Islam, though he is actually a Christian.

On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, above a recipe for "Open Border Fiesta Waffles" that says it can serve "4 or more illegal aliens." The recipe includes a tip: "While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?"

Here is an interview with the makers where they try to justify their racism:

Today's racists divide us and put us down by singling out "community organizers" and urban people as not being like the good folks who are hard-working, rural and small town.

They make their points by subtly questioning the patriotism of blacks and whether we really love our country like good white folks do. They do things like purposefully mail out over one million tainted absentee ballots to Ohio voters knowing that this will invalidate those votes, as the McCain campaign admitted they did this week according to a report in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Or they challenge minority voter rolls as the Republicans intend to do in Michigan based on whether voters are still using the address of their foreclosed homes. And just like sixty-one years ago, they do all this and dare us to express any outrage or lash back, so we can be labeled angry black men and women, and sexist if we dare call out a white woman who can freely show her contempt for who we are.

And sadly, even in 2008 this stuff works. The media buys into it and the electorate accepts it. This from an AP story this week:

An overwhelming advantage in experience and lopsided support from working-class and suburban whites have lifted Republican John McCain to a slender lead over Barack Obama less than two months from Election Day, a poll on the presidential race said Friday.

The Arizona senator has a 13-percentage-point lead over his Democratic rival both with men and senior citizens, and a 23-point advantage among rural residents, according to the Associated Press-GfK Poll of likely voters...

Fully 47 percent say Obama lacks the proper experience -- an even worse reading than the 36 percent who had the same criticism about McCain running mate Sarah Palin, serving her second year as Alaska governor after being a small-town mayor.

In 2008, the Republicans can show their continued contempt for Black America and minorities by even selecting a Vice-Presidential candidate who has absolutely no record or history of even dealing with minority issues. It is not even a question being asked, which is surprising considering all numbers show how increasingly more colorful our country is becoming. Is it too much to ask or expect that the people who run our country have some experience, or at least some public stance on minority issues or concerns? Apparently not to today's Republicans and today's racists.

Here is an excerpt from a piece by Earl Ofari Hutchinson on

Palin's record on race and diversity has been the blankest of blank sheets. The probes into Palin's record on diversity and civil rights have almost exclusively focused on her views on gay rights, gay marriage and equal pay. These are crucial civil rights issues. But so is racial diversity and civil rights...

Palin has taken no position on immigration, affirmative action, job and housing discrimination, school re-segregation, police-minority community relations and racial disparities in the criminal justice system...

During the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, she told the Eagle Forum that she opposed expanded hate crime legislation. She branded all heinous crimes as hate crimes. This legal counterintuitive view of what constitutes a hate crime goes squarely against the wide body of law and public policy that defines a hate crime as a willful act or threat based solely on racial, gender or religious animus. By lumping common crimes, no matter how repulsive, into the hate crime category, Palin would effectively gut enforcement of federal hate crime laws.

Oh, I know, next comes the comment that Republicans have appointed Blacks to high posts, look at Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Even the College Republican leader mentioned above defended his stupid comment by saying he's not racist since he is a big fan of Rice.

But even Rice, in an article published on, laments the state of race these days:

...I can go into a whole day of meetings at the Department of State and actually rarely see somebody who looks like me, and that's just not acceptable.

So the old, put one in a high position and that'll satisfy the masses, just doesn't play anymore. The House Negro against Field Negro thing doesn't fool us anymore.

And yet here we are. Barack and Michelle Obama, two of the most gifted and intelligent people America could produce, who are in many ways being treated no better than Jackie Robinson was, some sixty-one years ago. The double standards at play are so blatant, so obvious that it is beyond insulting. published an excellent letter to the editor the other day that sums up where we are:

How racism works

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?

What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said "I do" to?

What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama were a member of the "Keating 5″?

What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

-- Kelvin LaFond, Fort Worth, Forth Worth Star Telegram

Jackie Robinson swallowed everything thrown at him with dignity and grace so that others might follow him. And he did so while proving just how stupid the old ways were by literally running circles around those white men. Barack Obama, unfortunately, has to carry the same weight. We had hoped it would be better by now. But it isn't. But just like Robinson, Obama, all of the Obamas including Michelle and the children, are proving that win or lose, class is still possible. That no matter how much some may hate us, we march on and we will be victorious sooner or later.

Robinson would say later about those things shouted at him from the Philies dug-out:

The things the Phillies shouted at me from their bench have been shouted at me from other benches and I am not worried about it. They sound just the same in the big league as they did in the minor league.

Obama is in the biggest league now. No matter what they say, I am not worried. Because much to their chagrin, the door he has opened cannot be closed. And that, ultimately, is what they are so afraid of.