Tuesday morning I had an interesting and unexpected conversation with my assistant Jolene.[i] She violated one of my job’s steadfast rules and asked me a few questions not only about politics, but also race. Honestly, I play hopscotch with the employee handbook anyway so I really didn’t care.
The exchange began when she mentioned a speech by Jesse Jackson where he mentioned the age-old battle of national versus states’ rights. In the speech she said Jackson made the point that both individual states and the Federal Government played a key role in our lives. Most importantly, she said Jackson’s point was that the Federal Government was important in bestowing and enforcing the rights of minorities when the states could not or would not.
I nodded in agreement as she continued on, mentioning how tumultuous of an issue that state’s rights have been in the history of America, especially in the years before the American Civil War. Somewhere along the line I made a comment that basically stated “Yeah, the right to own slaves.” This is where race was interjected into the conversation which lead to how race was and is defined in modern America.
I told her that I thought that race in America was in a strange place – there has been great improvement coupled with what I thought were not so thinly-veiled steps backwards. To further explain myself I used today’s domestic political climate to frame my argument. I told Jolene, who is a white fifty something, that I felt that America’s political climate has become more caustic due to the rhetoric and language that is in use. I then used New Gingrich’s remarks of Barack Obama being the “food stamp president”. As much as Newt denies any racial connotation in his statements, I’m sure Gingrich knows that calling the first black president of the United States the “food stamp president” sets a wanted, specific tone in conversations.
As we continued I presented the point that people of Gingrich’s ilk or those that he panders too are fond of divisive language. I told her that as a minority, the use of pronouns, more specifically possessive pronouns can cause eyebrows to rise during political speeches. “Ours”, “theirs”, and “mine” ring bells in the back of your mind (or mine at least) that set of varying levels of concern.
Phrases including possessive pronouns like “Take “our” country back.” and “Their values.” place false ownership on both ideas and property as well as inject levels of vitriol into what is supposedly civil speech. I told Jolene that the use of possessive pronouns in the political arena has always been a damning omen of what’s to come, or intended to come throughout history. Going back to our original comments about states’ rights I said that proponents of states’ rights and slavery would have used similar comments to sure up their support. Whether it is Italy in the 1920’s or Germany in the 1930’s I presented examples of how possessive pronouns are indicators or of divisive rhetoric. I joked, “Show me a hateful fool and I’ll show you a ton of possessive pronouns.”[ii]
Oddly enough, I’ve thought about the things people say before but somehow this conversation resonated a lot more with me. In all, I think this particular presidential race will get a lot uglier before it all ends in November. The rhetoric and verbal jabs will be at an all-time high and I’m curious to see what left when the smoke clears.
Vaya con Dios.
[i] The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
[ii] Possessive pronouns are often used by idiots in conjunction with generalizations. Usually whenever, “their” flimsy argument is running out of steam.