Of Mongrels and Uncle Toms

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter! ‘I have a dream’, just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all me are created equal’ – just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself?’ – just words. Just speeches?… Don’t tell me words don’t matter!“ ~ Senator Barack Obama, February 16, 2008

For a man who rose to the presidency primarily on the strength of his words, presented in eloquent phrases and a soaring baritone, when he is divorced from his teleprompter, he can be surprisingly inartful. During his appearance yesterday on The View, a show that continues to amaze me with its lasting power, and I don’t mean that in a complimentary fashion, the President had this to say about black people when questioned about his biracial background:

“[T]he interesting thing about the African-American experience in this country is that we are sort of a mongrel people. I mean, we’re all kinds of mixed up. Now, that’s actually true of white America as well, but we just know more about it.”

I wasn’t watching it live – I can’t stand it and I won’t contribute to their ratings, although I know it wouldn’t make a difference. I watched the clip, however, and replayed it over and over to make sure I got it right. After the Shirley Sherrod brouhaha, I wouldn’t want to be sued for harping on what the video shows he actually said! More on the lovely Sherrod family later, by the way.

The ladies of The View just sat there, looking at him with frozen smiles. Sherry Shephard was nodding affirmatively and host Whoopi Goldberg even gave him an “mm-hmm” and a “yeah” as he uttered these words. Of course, I shouldn’t focus on audience reaction. After all, the “mm-hmms” and “yeahs” being uttered by Ms. Sherrod’s audience as she described her racist behavior aren’t supposed to matter, either – right?

Elisabeth Hasselback, the token conservative in the group who, bless her heart, is as sweet as the day is long but is there only because she’s great sport for the others as they fillet her on a daily basis, didn’t react, either. Maybe she didn’t get it or didn’t know what to say, or maybe she was afraid to go against the mood of the panel and the studio audience, who were all basking in his presence.

By the way, if The View really wanted to get my attention, they’d have Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Dana Loesch or another whip-smart, sharp conservative woman on there instead of Elisabeth. The problem is that they’d have to drag Whoopi and Joy at a minimum off the set after they’d been schooled, because they’d be foaming at the mouth! But I digress.

The president must have realized how the word “mongrel” in reference to black people came across, because he immediately tried to qualify his statement (“…that’s actually true of white America as well…”). Really? I bet if I ask my white friends if they’ve ever been referred to as mongrels, I won’t get a single “mm-hmm” or “yeah”.

I think the man knew he slipped up, because he started waxing eloquent about how caring for people as he does is more important than labels. So words don’t matter, Mr. President? Of course, he later went on to blame our racist tendencies on the “reptilian side of our brain that leads people to not trust others.”

Reptilian? Really? I thought Democrats were the party of science, and last time I read a book on physiology, there was no mention of anything remotely reptilian about the human brain. It was Satan that was the snake in the garden, not us!

I was amused at all the people online who were tripping all over themselves to defend the president and his choice of words. Context matters, they bleated, and he explained exactly what he meant by it, so there’s no harm and no foul. Those of us who were making an issue of it were criticized for being haters or, heaven forbid, conservatives. “Right-wing media goes nuts”, screams one online headline.

Let me ask you, gentle reader, the same question I posed to my online friends. Had it been Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann – I could go on, but you get my point – would the reaction have been the same? I think you know the answer to that.

Margaret Sanger, the eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood, frequently spoke of blacks as “mongrels” and established her organization to help rid the world of its “mongrel peoples.” In fact, “mongrel” was a popular term among eugenicists, chief among them Adolf Hitler, who frequently decried the “resultant mongrel people” that came from the intermarrying of the races.

Robert Byrd, the recently deceased U.S. Senator from West Virginia, in 1944 wrote in a letter to segregationist Mississippi U.S. Senator Theodore Bilbo:

“Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”

Ouch. No way to dismiss that one. “Mongrel” was one of the more common words used by the Klan and white supremacists to describe the threat of interracial relationships and their offspring, and it is used by them to this day.

The dictionary has many definitions for “mongrel” but this one best describes how people typically use the term: “Derogatory term for a variation that is not genuine; something irregular or inferior or of dubious origin (WordNet)”.

As a father of biracial children, I may call them a lot of things, but I can assure you that “mongrel” is not a word that would cross my lips, even accidentally. Some are claiming his use of the word was an attempt to defuse it and take away its power to offend and, for that, he should be commended.

Whatever. Since we’ve confirmed what we knew all along, that the Democrats are stirring the race pot in order to distract us from their failures, he needs to do a whole lot more to defuse the situation.

He could start by criticizing his Justice Department for their refusal to be race-neutral in their prosecutorial decisions, and order them to do their jobs regardless of race. He could publicly declare, as he’s done in the past, that the Tea Party movement isn’t racist, but simply an extension of a debate about the proper role of government that’s been going on since the dawn of the republic.

He could be a healer, but that’s not part of the campaign strategy. Oh, that’s right – he also said on The View that "we shouldn't be campaigning all the time. There's a time to campaign, and there's a time to govern." It doesn’t appear he’s figured out what time it is yet.

Speaking of time, it’s well past time for Shirley Sherrod and anyone associated with her to go away. I don’t mean in a malicious way, just so we don’t have to see or hear them anymore. While Ms. Sherrod stretches her fifteen minutes of fame to the breaking point, and looks less and less sympathetic every time she opens her mouth, it was revealed this week that her husband, Charles Sherrod, in a speech he gave earlier this year at the University of Virginia Law School conference, declared:

“[W]e must stop the white man and his Uncle Toms from stealing our elections. We must not be afraid to vote black. We must not be afraid to turn a black out who votes against our interests.”

Since words matter, let me instruct Mr. Sherrod, who largely got a pass in the media because he was a civil rights contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which makes everything he says OK.

The only blacks voting against our interests are the ones who vote for abortion despite its disproportionate toll and economic impact on the black community, who vote to snatch educational opportunity away from parents and children to protect a failed public school system and the teachers unions, who vote for the government’s half-century of social experiments on the black community which have destroyed the black family and resulted in three-fourths of our children being born to single mothers – and it sure isn’t us Uncle Toms!

For what it’s worth, these black radicals who think they’re so clever by labeling black conservatives “Uncle Toms” either can’t read or comprehend what they read. In my book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch, I devote much of the first chapter to debunking the myths surrounding the central character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

Tom was a noble Christian man who endured the hardships of enslavement with amazing grace. He refused an order from Simon Legree, his cruel white master, to whip a fellow slave and was savagely beaten by Legree as a result. He also heroically resisted Legree’s attempts to break him of his faith in Christ.

Tom comforted the other slaves, encouraged two of them to escape and refused to divulge their whereabouts to Legree. Because of this, he was beaten to death by two black slaves, Sambo and Quimbo, who acted as Legree’s overseers. Tom forgave his assailants even as he was dying and they were so humbled by his mercy that they became Christians too. So Stowe’s main character is a man of great dignity and Christian faith.

Tom represented Stowe’s deliberate attempt to dispel the popular minstrel show stereotypes of black men as ignorant, lazy and frolicsome buffoons. In fact, it was the minstrel shows that subsequently took the Uncle Tom character and twisted him into a happy-go-lucky, boot-licking apologist for his white masters.

So they want to label us with the phrase “Uncle Tom”, huh? Based on the actual portrayal of Tom as a noble and Christ-like figure, I suppose we should use the names of other characters in the book to describe those blacks who attack us because we refuse to get in line with the rest of them. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which words matter.