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What would your reaction be if President George W. Bush, his father, or any president of the last 100 years had referred to African-Americans as a “mongrel people?” You’d be shocked at the tone-deafness, right? Maybe outraged, determined to vote for his next opponent, maybe even calling for his resignation?
How about if President Obama said it?
President Obama calls African-Americans a ‘mongrel people’
President Obama waded into the national race debate in an unlikely setting and with an unusual choice of words: telling daytime talk show hosts that African-Americans are “sort of a mongrel people.”
The president appeared on ABC’s morning talk show “The View” Thursday, where he talked about the forced resignation of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, his experience with race and his roots.
When asked about his background, which includes a black father and white mother, Obama said of African-Americans: “We are sort of a mongrel people.”
“I mean we’re all kinds of mixed up,” Obama said. “That’s actually true of white people as well, but we just know more about it.”
The president’s remarks were directed at the roots of all Americans. The definition of mongrel as an adjective is defined as “of mixed breed, nature, or origin,” according to dictionary.com.
I’m sorry, but the writer’s breezy dismissal of Obama’s use of “mongrel” is just plain specious. It is an incredibly charged word in the history of American racism, often made use of by White supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, the late Senator Robert Byrd, once a Klan officer, wrote long ago in a letter that he never wanted to:
“…see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels.”
And now we have a President of the United States using the same words as the Klan? An African-American president? How clueless and tone deaf do you have to be to miss the significance of calling Blacks “a mongrel people,” no matter how you try to spread it around?
(This reminds me of the interview he gave in Britain, in which he said he believed in American exceptionalism, just as Greeks believed in Greek exceptionalism and Britons in British exceptionalism. In other words, it’s further proof he does not understand the country he leads.)
To go back to the opening questions, you can be sure that, if Reagan, either of the Bushes, Clinton… or any modern president had said that, there would be huge demonstrations and race hustlers such as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton would be calling for his resignation. If it were said at a Tea Party or put on a sign, it would be taken as proof that the Tea Parties are just a racist front.
But, just watch. I have a sneaking suspicion that,since the press corps largely sees his success as their mission, they’ll try to give this a pass and let it flow down the memory hole.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pick my jaw up off the floor.
UPDATE: Bruce at GayPatriot reminds us of the use of “mongrel” in perhaps the most inflammatory movie in US history.
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(Crossposted at Public Secrets)