Thursday, October 9, 2008

That One

When Sen. John McCain angrily referred to Sen. Barack Obama as "that one" during the last presidential debate, something in me twitched. At a past employ, I recall a colleague (a white male) who used the phrase often. Though he never directed it at me, he would always call others (most often women and people of color) "that one" when he was joking or voicing a complaint. I never knew why, but it irked me to hear him say it. Then John McCain used it and almost immediately my phone buzzed with a text message from my sister. It read:

"That One" = boy?

And suddenly, I was struck with why I never liked that term. Its condescension is glaring, and has the ability to transform the person of your ire into a "thing"--some type of "other" separate and apart from yourself.

My sister and I weren't the only ones who got that vibe. By that night blogs were abuzz about the strange reference. Many--across the demographic spectrum--had the same unease. Of course, there were those erstwhile white iberal referees of racial incidents--who see fit to make the call on any act of bias perceived by a person of color, usually with doubts and concerns of "over-reacting." These same refs fought down any mention early on that the McCain-Palin crowds were becoming dangerous and unruly. That they were woefully wrong in that regard hasn't stopped them from their usual officiating. Because goodness knows, they are much more equipped to know when someone is making a racially tinged slight better than those who have actually experienced it. To some of my white liberal friends, god bless ya'--but let's try to keep the paternalism in check.

Though most of the media did not "go there" on the quote, simply referring to it as bizarre, I was pleased to see journalist Hugh Hamilton of WBAI "Talk Back" speaking plainly on the topic. I re-post his brief but illuminating commentary below.

Talk Back radio show host Hugh Hamilton, Oct 8th, 2008:

At the moment anything I have to say about last night’s debate can be said in 90 seconds or less…

You know that all pretense of civility or parliamentary decorum has been irretrievably lost from our public discourse when one of the candidates in a presidential debate takes to flailing his arms about onstage and referring to his opponent as “that one.” It was a comment that had all the delicacy of a barnyard epithet.

At best it exposes the absence of tempermental sobriety and statesmanship on the part of Senator McCain. At worst it betrays an attitude of racially tinged condescension and disdain that invalidates any further aspiration on his part to leadership in a multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic 21st Century America.

If that slight was intentional, then it exposed either an appalling lack of judgment or a blatant disregard for historical sensitivities on the part of Senator McCain. And if it was accidental then it betrayed a complete lack of grace under pressure, and a reflexive tendency in such circumstances to seek recourse in the undignified rhetoric of bigotry and prejudice. There are no good choices here.

At their next debate, Sen. McCain may choose to either apologize either directly to Sen. Obama or he may choose to go for broke and simply address him as “boy.” Either way, it is unlikely to make a difference to the image that the Senator from Arizona has now crafted for himself.

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