Wednesday, October 8, 2008

get a pass for speaking poorly in public

If you're a non-white American speaking in public, most white listeners expect you to speak "properly," which basically means, like a middle-class white person. However, if you're a white person speaking in public, it's okay to speak differently, and to mess up repeatedly.

White public figures and "leaders," such as politicians, can speak in a folksy, regional manner, like those of Sarah Palin or George Bush, but non-white public figures cannot. Not if they want to get anywhere, that is--just imagine where Barack Obama would be if he regularly filled his speeches with some apparently "black" equivalent of Sarah Palin's "doggone its" and "you betchas."

In fact, white public speakers are also granted more leeway for going even further. They can habitually mangle the language, as George W. Bush does ("Make the pie higher!", "We need to put food on our families!" etc.), or they can habitually misspeak, as John McCain does, and it does little to keep them from achieving their lofty, dubious, power-grabbing stations in life.

Actually, John McCain just did it again, today:

"Clarity" indeed, Senator McCain!

McCain's slip-up here leaves me feeling pretty much like this (as does much of what leaves the mouth of his running mate, Sarah Palin):

The thing is, no matter how often or how badly McCain, Palin, Bush, or any other white public speaker regionalizes, mangles, or misspeaks their English, few if any listeners are going to attribute such deviations from standard English to their race. Which wouldn't be the case if they were non-white.

Nevertheless, McCain's verbal brain-fart today, combined with his crotchety, aimlessly stage-wandering performance in last night's debate, just might be stupendously bad enough that they'll function as the nails that seal the coffin on his candidacy.

In fact, the cast members of "Star Trek" have already weighed in to say so:

PS--They mean his candidacy is dead. Not the man himself. Gee whiz, I'm not that heartless!

H T: Plutonium Page @ Daily Kos


  1. The English language lacks a good word to express the third person plural.

    I hate, hate, hate the word "yous" to express the third person plural. It is mostly American whites (regardless of class and/or ethnicity!) who use that non-word. It is their whiteness that allows them to get away with it.

    But nooooo, don't let a black person use "y'all" (which, when you think about it, and look at the word in print, is a more appropriate word--it is the contraction of "you" and "all") to express third person plural.

    The "y'all" user is branded as being ignorant. The "yous" user is never judged.

  2. Your humorous style of blogging is wonderful, and I love it! I'm still cracking up at that second clip.

    I, too often feel dumber having listening to the pointless rhetoric of those ass-ociated with the McCain/Palin ticket.

  3. This goes back to the fist jab. The Obama's couldn't even get away with that.

    McCain has had ties to Nazi sympathizers and Palin, anti American secessionists from Alaska.

    Yet there is little say about any of this.

    The bar is indeed raised for everybody else, and whites get a pass on it for being "cute" and accessible.

    The village does have it's idiots, but in the US it seems, if white, an idiot can go places.

    Sad actually. At work I point out the riff raff, you have to before the riff raff becomes somebody they can't deal with down the road. Because they awarded as they sometimes do, bad behavior.

  4. OK.

    This may be a regional thing, but I've said, I've heard lots of other people say it that the way Palin speaks makes her sound dumb. I do know other people who were offended by her 'aw shucks' and like mannerisms at her debate.

    The things that have come out of Bush's mouth in terms of word order makes me wonder again and again how this man got elected--twice.

    In my mind, none of these people (Bush, Palin, McCain) have gotten any kind of a pass for sounding like idiots. I resent having to try and figure out what someone said. English grammar rules are there for a reason!

    In all honesty, I'm glad that Obama doesn't sound like that--to me it finally speaks to the fact that we are going to elect someone for president who might actually sound presidential! Novel thought I know.

    I use you'll all the time--mostly as a way around the third person plural problem that English has. On occasion someone will give me a hard time about it--usually along the lines of, 'you're not from the South' and I give that person a steely glare and ask if they have a better solution for the 3rd person plural in the English language and then tends to shut them right up. I suspect most of them don't what I'm talking about, but that is another story.

  5. Watchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?

    Sarah Palin has been derided from Miami to Fairbanks for that cornpone act of hers.

  6. Your Star Trek "He's dead, Jim" clips reminds me of Julie Chen's "But firsts" on "Big Brother":

  7. Palin's English seems like an act to me. Does anyone talk like that? Like in real life?

  8. To be fair, Obama drops his g's too and changes his English depending on who his audience is. The colloquial English you hear him speak in the campaign is not the same sort of English he spoke growing up, at least not if you go by his book "Dreams from My Father".

  9. If you look at Bush's early debates in Texas, his English was far less mangled and folksy. For him that sort of English is an act so that seems like a good old boy instead of the son of a rich and powerful family.

  10. Thanks for posting this!

    don't let Obama (or any black man) say Yah, yous, cuz, fo sho or better yet, express anger or be aggressive!

  11. Ha! Great way of making this point, Macon. Cubical neighbors wonder, though, what I was guffawing about. Guffaw Guffaw!

    Dale, you don't seem to get it. Yes of course Palin gets derided up and down for that cornpone accent. But she doesn't get derided for spewing a "white" accent, a "white" way of talking that's called JUST "white." It's maybe, (white) rural, or (white) Fargo, but not just white. Like, you know, that Obama "terrorist fist jab" was just "black." Or wait, come to think of it, maybe black and Muslim? Anyway, some sort of monolithic non-whiteness. So that's what you're missing, Dale. Whiteness doesn't get monolithicized, if thats a word, homogenized, but other non-white groups do, and this public talkin' thang is another example. As a "WHITE" person, Sarah Pailin' gets a pass from other white folks for speaking poorly in public, though you're right, not as a "rural person," an "Alaska person," a "cornpone-eating person," or whatever.

    So, capiche?

  12. You make extremely valid point about race and language. I often point out when people complain about language that its purpose is to convey a message. If you understood what the person was trying to say their word choice is irrelevant because the speech fulfilled its purpose.

  13. Now look what y'all have made me do:

    "Y'all" and "youse" are second person plural. Third person plural is "they."

  14. I still don't know what Bush was talking about when he said:

    I thought an interesting comment was made — somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, “Now, where’s Mandela?” Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.


  15. Great post, funny too. And hey I came over from Black Voices where this post is picked for "best of black blogs". I like your blog.


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