Thursday, October 1, 2009

think of barack obama as "arrogant"

I noticed recently that someone landed on this blog by entering this question into Google:

"Does anyone else think obama is the most arrogant person they know?"

Although I have no way of knowing for sure, I have a sneaking suspicion that this Google-user is a white person.

For one thing, while I've heard white people say that about Obama, I've never heard non-white people say it.

For another thing, it's reminiscent of old (and still current, in some places) descriptions of black people who don't act humbly enough as "uppity." Black people who act, that is, as if they're the equals of white people.

I don't think white Americans in general have completely gotten over that kind of thinking. Or is it more like, a feeling?

Not that we all think and feel that way. I like to think, or hope, that I don't think and feel that way.

To me, Barack Obama's general demeanor seems more "down to earth" -- almost the opposite of "arrogant." He does seem educated, informed, and intelligent, but I don't equate such qualities with "arrogance." Maybe I'm partially influenced in this by my looking at him from a middle-class perspective?

At any rate, what I'm led to think by such a Googled question about Obama being "the most arrogant person" the Google-user knows is this: a lot of white people think, even unconsciously at times, that a black person who acts NOT like he's above other people, but like he or she is the equal of other people, is acting "arrogant." I also think that's a word that a lot of white people who use it that way would not apply to someone who acts the same way, but isn't black.

I wish I could cite some studies of this phenomenon. Since I don't have any to refer you to, I will note that at this point, the above thoughts are tentative and speculative.

What have you experienced in terms of common white perceptions of "arrogance," be it that of Barack Obama or of anyone else?


  1. Confidence is not a desired trait in POCs by many whites. As you've mentioned, it denotes equality. It's as simple as that.

    Everyone else's role in society is to shuffle and jive; whereas, they've earned the right to stand tall and strong. It's another baffling issue that I've dealt with far too many times.

  2. I wonder what the context was for that question from the Googler. Was the person trying to say that BHO is "uppity"? I don't know.

    But I do know that White folks are not the only ones who think he is "full of himself." I have had discussions with other Blacks who say things like that he (much like his friend Prof Gates) needs a "n**** wake up call" or that all the racism directed his way is good for that very purpose.

    But IMO, if anything I find him to be overly self-deprecating, almost as if he is purposefully trying not to come off as too arrogant and intimidating.

  3. I totally agree with you. Some white people do consider educated black people arrogant. It's like either your a stupid black person or a arrogant black person. There is no in between.

  4. Macon, I know exactly what you mean -- there are definitely people who consider Obama arrogant and mean uppity. And those people are bigots. But, um, as a POC I find him arrogant, too. When he demeans black fathers as irresponsible, when he tells black parents to stop feeding their kids cold fried chicken for breakfast, when he thinks he has the right to lecture blacks as though he's superior, when he tells Jay Leno (like a smart-aleck) that Jimmy Carter was wrong because he was black before the election, etc., I do think, whoa, this guy is arrogant. And in fact, I know quite a few POC (liberal, leftist, POC) who agree with me.

  5. I've heard several people refer to Obama as being arrogant, snarky etc. What they don't understand is that black folk are taught to be better than the best, because of the haunting "microscope" hovering over our heads. If he were inarticulate then he would never have been elected.

    One thing I've noticed recently amongst a lot of white pastors and my white friends who speak in public is that they purposefully speak in a manner that gives listeners the impression that they are humble and just "one of the gang." I don't think that this informal approach to public speaking has always been the case. As a matter of fact, I think that past generations placed more emphasis on being articulate and polished. I think that black folks followed suit. A more formal approach to public speaking is still embraced within black culture. Check pulpits across America on Sunday mornings.

    We struggle to let our guards down, because of the double standard. I would rather be articulate and arrogant than sloppy, unprepared and incompetent. I think that Barack and Michelle are misunderstood and seen as arrogant, because there are cultural differences that some white folk don't understand and therefore polished and articulate is interpreted as arrogant.

    I also think that there are misunderstandings that occur in the reverse and that unless people really take time to get to know one another a lot of this bull could be resolved and we could deal with the real issues on the table.

    To finally answer your question...I do not know anyone else who is seen as arrogant the way that the President is.

  6. On politics - my view of him is similar to most politicians. He's well, he's a politician.

    As a person, I admire him, I like him. But I find him arrogant sometimes. He's arrogant because he talks about himself alot, and spends a lot of time on TV. I don't know that that makes him entirely arrogant. His election victory speech and inauguration address were not arrogant, although I didn't like his inauguration address as much as many others.

    I'm white. Not sure if that says anything about me or not.

    There are other Presidents I'd consider arrogant. Bill Clinton is arrogant. GW Bush can seem pretty arrogant, although his father not so much. Ford, Carter and Reagan are/were not really arrogant, especially not Carter. Johnson and Nixon - both arrogant. Kennedy - not arrogant. Prior to that, it's hard to tell.

  7. People listen to what you are saying....The Man is doing his job,and parents should stop feeding their children cold fried chicken at breakfast.
    It is time for black people to have some confidence.
    I go with HoneyBrown on this one...
    But keep the thoughts going yahll!!

  8. I am light skinned, of mixed parentage, and have been called bougie. How accurate that is... up to individuals, I guess.

    I've been called arrogant by white people. I've been called arrogant by black people. The accusations themselves have different weight, and feel different.

  9. @ D W JazzLover

    You really think black people feed their kids cold fried chicken for breakfast? Do they serve it with a side of watermelon?

  10. Yea, I too have heard the comment /accusation that the president is arrogant, and the charge is usually, if not always, leveled by a white person. The interesting thing to me is that there is never any supporting comment(s) to go along with the allegation, and it’s up to the listener to bring substance to the comment. So, I view it as a dog whistle type of comment.

    It appears to me that the President is acutely aware of white sensitivities regarding race, that he bend over backwards to avoid the appearance of arrogance. He never brings up his education or academic accomplishments, or his success as an author. He is the only Black man to sit in the U.S. Senate in the past 40 years, and one of five in the history of the country. He does not talk about these things. He does not push his weight around in public. Sorry, just don't see the arrogance. So when they say he's arrogant, maybe what they are really saying is that, he's a n.....!

  11. It's kind of hard to tell whether that was a racist comment or not, because there is a small confounding factor - the man is a President. I remember back when I was a kid living in a Republican household and state. Everyone there said Bill Clinton was an arrogant bastard.

    Then I went to a highly liberal college in a highly liberal city, and ugh, do you see that awful arrogant smirk on Dubya's stupid face?

    So it's kind of not possible to say, without reading the commenter's mind, just how racist that statement was.

  12. Ooh I am so glad you asked that question, because this has come up in my life several times recently. A (white) man in my life persists in calling PoC's arrogant. And not just as individuals - he will brand an entire culture as being 'arrogant' based on the actions of one person from that culture.

    It seems that he is most likely to brand someone arrogant if they, on seeing him, do not smile. The most recent one he told me about was when he was overseas during a war, wearing military uniform, and the local tribesmen when they came into town wouldn't smile at him - in fact I think they didn't acknowledge his presence at all, just went about their business. He put this down to the fact that they are really really arrogant. I've realised he thinks this about any culture where grinning at everyone you meet isn't the norm.

    The ironic thing is that under a normal dictionary definition of arrogance, he truly is the most arrogant person I know.

  13. Is this purely about racism though? Isn't there also a cultural difference element? I don't think its ever occurred to me to that Obama could be perceived as 'arrogant'. To me he simply appears as someone radiating a degree of professionalism appropriate to the job. He comes over as someone who, to the extent that anyone _can_ do the job he has, knows what he's doing. (Though I am very dubious indeed as to how much he can really accomplish, given the scale of the structural and economic problems facing him)

    I wonder if he appears as 'arrogant' to the same people who found Bush's manner to be 'folksy' and 'man of the people' (whereas I, frankly, in common with much of the world outside the US, saw Dubya's manner as signifying idiocy - even though I intellectually knew he couldn't, in fact, be anywhere near as dumb as he came across, or pretended to be).

    Just as cultural differences affected how Bush was perceived, the same is maybe true of Obama? Those who saw Bush as an idiot see Obama as professional, while those who saw Bush as folksy and unpretentious see Obama as arrogant? I'm sure race is part of it, but maybe there are other things going on there as well?

    Though it always struck me very strongly with Bush that no black guy could get away with having the same struggles with the English language that he had. The same folk who defended him against 'elitist' sneers at his unique way with words were the first to come on like Alan Bloom defending standard English whenever discussion turned to Ebonics, say.

    There's no way Colin Powell or Condaleeza Rice could have got as far as they did if they spoke like Bush. There's a blindingly obvious double-standard there

  14. I'm going to have to say that there is plenty of reason to think Obama is arrogant.

    First of all, anyone who thinks they would be a good "Leader of the Free World" is arrogant especially when coming from so little political experience.

    Furthermore, Obama recently remarked that this health care reform would be a "defining moment in American history"!

    And who can forget the this is the moment our planet began to heal speech.

    Perhaps Obama's arrogance is more upsetting to some due to the fact that he's black, but it's really difficult to find the mere claim that he is arrogant unreasonable

  15. Hackberry, like you I'm surprised to hear that people call Obama arrogant. I totally agree that Bush appeared to be an idiot to the rest of the world. But that was not instead of appearing arrogant - it was as well as. His arrogance was in plain view, his ignorance just underlined it. I can't imagine anyone calling him 'folksy' without ignoring his gross abuses of human rights and international laws as well as his absolute lack of understanding about the rest of the world outside the USA. If the same people who call him folksy are calling Obama arrogant, then I'd bet money those people are white, and I'd be checking them out for any other signs of racism.

    Tim, you seem to be saying that by the nature of the position anyone who wants to become or thinks they're capable of becoming President is arrogant. But I don't think believing that you are the best person for the job is, in itself, arrogance. If you felt that Obama was arrogant in believing he was superior to the other candidate, why? He obviously was a superior campaigner, or he wouldn't have won. If that health care reform went through, it would be a defining moment in history, regardless of who thought it up or whether it ultimately worked or not. History is about what happens.

    I actually looked up the definition of arrogance the other day. And the things you are speaking of aren't really arrogance.

    Here is the definition: 'offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride.'

    From your comment, it looks like you have either misunderstood the meaning of the word arrogance; or, possibly, you are one of the people who see him as arrogant because he is black and had the gall to run for President - and won.

  16. Interestingly enough, I have had this charge leveled against me. Mostly by people who don't know me. I think people confuse arrogance for sweetness. I'm not overtly sweet, or sweet at all if you don't know me. I don't go out of my way to say hello to people or to say good morning. Whose really to say it's a good morning for anyone. But anyway, I just don't do those things.

    One a side note, a neighbor of mine has been saying good morning and good night when I leave the house or come home. This neighbor is always outside. It actually bothers me now because I don't want someone documenting my comings and goings. Checking out who I bring home and whatnot. It's just disturbing.

  17. Correction: people confuse arrogance for lack of sweetness

  18. Hey fictional eyes, if both blacks and whites call you arrogant, maybe it's time to look in the mirror and accept that you are right?

  19. But IMO, if anything I find him to be overly self-deprecating, almost as if he is purposefully trying not to come off as too arrogant and intimidating.

    I agree. I thought I was going to scream during the David Letterman appearance. I am sorry but if a co-worker jumped up and screamed "you lie" during one of my work meetings I would have had more to say than Obama did.

  20. The first time I ever saw President Obama, I was so thrilled with his confidence. It was so refreshing to look at this man who wanted to lead us and see some semblance of knowing what he's doing, what he wants to do, and how to get that accomplished. I knew he would win the candidacy, and I knew he would become our president. That's what his confidence, not to be confused with arrogance, conveyed to me.

    I know most people, especially his naysayers, won't want to read his book, Dreams From My Father, but if they did, I'm sure that they would have a newfound respect for him and a much better understanding of this confidence (provided they're not totally clueless about African-Americans and aren't racist).

    This turned into an "I love Obama" comment, but that wasn't my intention.

  21. Macon
    I wrote about this a while back with Obama and some other black folks.

    Check it out if you have the time.

  22. In the old days they used to refer to any black person who stood up for themselves as an 'uppity n.-word,' if they weren't subsequently lynched or run out of town ( Tulsa Oklahoma 1921 Rosewood etc.. rampant lynchings) Now they are referred to as 'arrogant' which is just a more covert term for the old one. Arrogant=uppity n-word. Nothing to analyze or argue about, call it what it is racism.

  23. I don't think he's arrogant. I just disagree with his politics.

  24. Ask the IOC if they thought Obama (and his wife) were arrogant.

    There's no way they ever appeared arrogant at the IOC hearings though! Talking about yourself and showing extreme pride in yourself when it's supposed to be about how the city of Chicago will support the Olympics is in no way acting arrogant! I agree, he is very down to earth. It's just that all these racists trying to keep him down are low class.

    Also, those racist IOC members should've been told they had no choice but to hand the Olympics to Obama's city.

  25. Ugh, this man is getting branded

  26. Sorry about the previous post, i was logging in, but this is quite sad, can he catch a break? This man is getting branded every which way!

  27. no, i'm white and i don't think you're biased in saying that. he's everything you said he is, he's not arrogant, that's just dumb.

  28. Funny; is this the same Obama who copped derision with his act of humility towards the Saudi King?

    Obama displays what you might call "thoughtful confidence". He is secure enough in himself that he can remain largely unruffled by the ugly personal attacks and nastiness that goes along with politics. I think he thinks that to engage in this grubby pettiness would be beneath him. Thus some interpret this as him seeing himself on some higher plane than the rest of us.
    The fact that he is black just exacerbates this, as he is seen as having risen above his supposed station.

  29. one of my friends once told me they didn't like michelle obama because they thought she was "racist." after asking about it realized they meant "uppity." i didn't even know where to begin.

  30. All I know is, George Bush had the smuggest shit-eating smirk I've ever seen. Obama can't begin to compete.

  31. @cinnamon girl

    Well, I don't disagree with you that simple racism is probably a big part of it.

    But if Obama were white but had the same politics and the same academic background, would there not be similar charges from the same people? Albeit to a lesser degree. There's a big distrust in much of the US of anyone who gives the impression of actually knowing anything about anything, irrespective of race (but especially if they are 'liberal').

    I would suggest that race also comes in in the way that someone like Bush, being white, had the option to evade that distrust by acting like an imbecile, and that option is simply not available to a black person.

    A white leader can defuse populist suspicions towards 'intellectuals' by acting the idiot (and I'm still 50-50 on the extent to which Bush actually was that dumb) but a black guy can never afford to appear less than capable if he wants to get anywhere in life.

    Its a catch-22 for a black person, it seems to me. Act the fool and you'll be derided (and slotted straight into a pre-existing stereotype), show your competence and you fall foul of the anti-intellectualism of much of the US. A White leader has a third option that isn't really available to blacks.

  32. I recall an article from November just after the election that made a big deal about what a "huge ego" he had. I was surprised that this seemed like a startling revelation about a presidential candidate/winner. I doubt any person who ever ran for president/won didn't have a huge ego. Why should Barack Obama be any different? The most tiring thing is when people tell me BHO should "be held to a higher standard" or "behave differently." I get some pleasure in telling them, yeah, he should, by not starting a war based on misdirection and lies!

  33. Presidents are arrogant. It goes with the job. It's silly to expect otherwise.

  34. To those saying yeah he comes off as arrogant because of his 'Father's Day' speech you all are full of crap! What he can't lecture black people about not being good parents but black people can dissect him every which way?! If that were Clinton that made that SAME speech black people would have been praising him for 'telling it like it is' but now everyone wants to hum and haw. And to Cat what the HELL did you expect he was going to go all Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X on everybody?! He HAS to mind his p's and q's and instead of criticizing why don't you all have his back for a damn change?!

  35. I am a white female and i do not think that Mr.Obama is arrogant. I think that the people that do think that need to open their eyes and take a look at who he is, and what he is doing for our country. I come from a not so open minded family and I was raised to be that way and reguardless of the color that he is i still like him, and think that this world is ready for a change!!!!

  36. Those of you who are writing in regard to things that white people do that annoy you. Get over yourself! You sound like a angry broken record from the past. You're man is now "The Man" in office so help him make some positive changes so that it does not appear that you are still taking two steps back as far as your hatred and anger toward white people for really something that stems back 134 years or more and no one living today was directly affected by it.Remember a chip on your shoulder or a rope around your neck do the same thing. They kill you.

  37. Dinkus...stick to the conversation. This is not a conversation for or about black folks that hate white folks. if someone has written something that you find offensive...address them not the whole pool. This is a dialogue...a discussion about whether or not we feel that President Obama is arrogant and why he might be perceived as such.

    Answer the question...or go post on a site where there are more angry embittered people like yourself who are willing to get riled up over the past and who are unwilling or unable to have a discussion with people who don't quite look like you. Obama is not "our man" nor is he "the man". "The man" exists in societies all around the world sweetie. It's's looks like you are the one that has a chip on your shoulder and it looks like Plymouth Rock from here.

    Begin again Finnegan...

  38. macon, why do you publish hateful messages like the previous one? If someone has to allude to lynching to make his (overly simplistic racism 101) point, why even allow them in the conversation?

  39. thesciencegirl,

    I do reject a lot of hateful and/or off-topic comments, and that one almost didn't make it through. But I let it and others like it through, if they're basically on topic and not too far beyond the pale, because someone usually answers well (as Nastasha did, extremely well!), and because people like that sometimes stick around and learn something -- usually not, but sometimes. The lynching reference is extreme, but I didn't read it in context as a statement of racist, murderous desire. If others did, I'll be glad to delete it.

  40. Macon said
    I also think that's a word that a lot of white people who use it that way would not apply to someone who acts the same way, but isn't black.

    Is this true? Does this mean that non-black, educated, intelligent, articulate (ha! and clean!) POC who interact with, and speak to, WP as if they are equals aren't perceived as "rising above their station"? Does that mean that non-black POC are regarded then, in some ways, as peers or equals? Maybe I misinterpreted what you said?

    Eurasian Sensation said...
    Obama displays what you might call "thoughtful confidence". He is secure enough in himself that he can remain largely unruffled by the ugly personal attacks and nastiness that goes along with politics. I think he thinks that to engage in this grubby pettiness would be beneath him. Thus some interpret this as him seeing himself on some higher plane than the rest of us.
    The fact that he is black just exacerbates this, as he is seen as having risen above his supposed station.


    Notably, I never heard the arrogance charge leveled at HRC, despite the mainstream media discussions of sexism (but not white privilege), or at any of the other white candidates, during the primaries. It was an accusation I heard some of their supporters repeatedly level at BHO, though.


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