Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland used the term “uppity” to describe Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Thursday.
While discussing Sarah Palin’s speech with reporters outside the House chamber, Westmorland was asked to compare Palin with Michelle Obama.
That’s when he let loose with the racially-charged epithet.
“Honestly, I’ve never paid that much attention to Michelle Obama,” Westmoreland said. “Just what little I’ve seen of her and Senator [Barack] Obama, is that they’re a member of an elitist class…that thinks that they’re uppity.”
The 58-year-old, Atlanta-born congressman declined to elaborate further, though he did repeat one part of his comment when asked to clarify.
“Uppity, you said?” he was asked.
“Yeah, uppity,” Westmoreland replied.
Westmorland is white.
Later, Westmorland’s press secretary Brian Robinson tried to clarify, insisting that the congressman was trying to say Barack is “elite.” Westmoreland apparently instructed his staff to check the dictionary to be sure he properly understood the meaning of the word.
Vanessa Beasley, who teaches political rhetoric at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said “uppity” is a word that hits the ear of African-Americans in a negative way — evoking images of the pre-civil rights era, when powerful whites sometimes punished blacks who spoke up for themselves.
“It has very clear roots in the history of slavery in the South,” Beasley said. “The term ‘uppity’ has such a specific, contextual historic meaning. It is more evocative of a particular moment in history and particular set of fears that exist today within certain parts of the electorate.
“The racial politics that it reanimates are very worrisome.”
I would bet a bale of cotton the congressman from Georgia knew exactly what he was saying.
Welcome to the Republican Party, 2008. Amazingly, it’s a lot like the Republican Party of 1958.