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Palin: ‘nothing remotely racist’ in Obama comment

Sarah Palin. (Craig Ruttle/Associated Press)

The phrase, she writes on Facebook, is something that “many people have used.” The defense of her remark follows a bunch of criticism that it amounted to a racist taunt.

“Shuck and jive,” as many commentators pointed out yesterday, is fraught with racial meaning: It’s “used as a negative assessment of African Americans, along the lines of a ‘foot shufflin’ Negro,’ ” CNN’s Roland Martin wrote in 2008, after then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) used the term.

Palin’s invocation of the term came in reference to the president’s less-than-forthcoming remarks about the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. She wrote, “President Obama’s shuck and jive shtick with these Benghazi lies must end.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews argued that Palin’s use of the term in reference to the president was “pretty blatant.”

In her latest Facebook post, Palin writes:

For the record, there was nothing remotely racist in my use of the phrase “shuck and jive” – a phrase which many people have used, including Chris Matthews, Andrew Cuomo, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to name a few off the top of my head. In fact, Andrew Cuomo also used the phrase in reference to Barack Obama, and the fact that Mr. Cuomo and I used the phrase in relation to President Obama signifies nothing out of the ordinary. I would have used the exact same expression if I had been writing about President Carter, whose foreign policy rivaled Obama’s in its ineptitude, or about the Nixon administration, which was also famously rocked by a cover-up.

I’ve been known to use the phrase most often when chastising my daughter Piper to stop procrastinating and do her homework. As she is part Yup’ik Eskimo, I’m not sure if this term would be deemed offensive when it’s directed at her or if it would be considered benign as in the case of Chris Matthews’ use of it in reference to Rachel Maddow. Just to be careful, from now on I’ll avoid using it with Piper, and I would appreciate it if the media refrained from using words and phrases like igloo, Eskimo Pie, and “when hell freezes over,” as they might be considered offensive by my extended Alaska Native family.

The outrageously outraged reaction to this expression from perennial hypocrites like Chris Matthews has only made me laugh. Mr. Matthews, let me share with you my favorite Irish toast: “May we always be happy, and may our enemies always know it.”

— Sarah Palin

Bolded text inserted to highlight an apparent absurdity, as if Palin had been fully conscious of these previous iterations all along — thanks to her encyclopedic command of remarks in Democratic presidential primaries, MSNBC programming and White House press briefings.

Moving away from the trivial, context matters when it comes to language and race. Palin invoked a racially charged term about black people’s trustworthiness to criticize the trustworthiness of our black president. That appears to have been the same serious offense committed by Cuomo in 2008, though he insisted the remark was not directed at Obama.

The term loses a lot of its offensiveness when it’s uttered in the absence of an allegedly mendacious black person. Carney, for instance, fell back on the term in an appearance before the press in September 2011, after he realized he didn’t have the right briefing notebook. “Sorry. I’m going to shuck and jive! Time to shuck and jive.” And Matthews’s moment came in a chat with MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow: “What has it been like, as you shuck and jive, hang out with the men over there, the women over there, in uniform risking their lives every day?”

Perhaps Palin can’t grasp the differences between these scenarios. I suspect she does, yet she pushes for moral equivalence anyhow.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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