A congressional innocent
U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican of Georgia, was quoted this week as saying of Barack and Michelle Obama, “Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they’re a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they’re uppity.”
No one expects spoken language to hold to the standards of written language. People start sentences in one direction and switch to another, or they get tangled in pronoun referents, or assemble syntactical fragments. That’s the way we talk, and spoken language has vocal inflections, facial expressions, gestures and other accompaniments to help the listener comprehend. It would be idle to expect of conversation the reflection and organization that produces a text.
Even so, you’d think that a member of Congress might display a little more skill in managing singulars and plurals and pronouns. The sense is a little challenging: The Obamas are members of an individual that thinks that they are uppity?
But the pivot in that little discourse is the word uppity. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution devoted an article — thank you, Editrix, for the link — to the minor brouhaha over Representative Westmoreland’s use of that word, with its unpleasantly racial overtones.*
No, no, Representative Westmoreland meant no such offense. He used the word in the dictionary sense of snobbish. In fact, the congressman said in a statement, “I’ve never heard that term used in a racially derogatory sense.”
So to the other historic elements of this year’s presidential election — the first African-American nominee from a major party, the first female vice presidential nominee from the Republican Party, etc. — we can add this specimen: a grown white man from the Deep South who had never heard uppity used with any racial connotation.
* The Journal-Constitution provides a gloss: “For decades in the segregated South, ‘uppity’ was a word applied to African-Americans who attempted to rise above servile positions.”