Last night, BOR staff writer Ben Sherman was on KEYE, our local CBS affiliate in Austin, talking about his recent posts excoriating the Texas Aggie Conservatives for their digital flier depicting President Obama in a manner that many folks find racially insensitive and ignorant.
A few things to comment on here. First off, we're not a University of Texas blog; while we were started by UT students, we're the largest progressive political blog in Texas and one of the leading state-level blogs nationally. While many of our past and present staff are past or present Longhorns, we're not a blog about UT. Just to clear that up.
What I've found most interesting in the debate over Ben's original post about the ad is the number of people — including white liberals — who want to excuse this by claiming that “boy” isn't a racially charged term, or suggest that because there are many other worse instances of racism in our society, this one should be allowed to pass. Um, no.
Would any of you reading this refer to an African-American adult male as “boy?” I'm guessing most of you are shaking your head “No.” Why not? Is it because you're familiar with the history of the use of that term and its continued pejorative, belittling usage since? Would you, as a representative of an organization, approve the creation of promotional materials that could easily be interpreted to depict the first African-American president as a “boy”? To drill down a bit deeper, the context here is one of young caucasian males (The Texas Aggie Conservatives) using words (“NEEDS a time out”) and imagery (body proportions, clothing, posture) code or depict an older, African-American male as a “boy.”
What's also become clear in this debate is that plenty of folks are unaware of (or willfully ignorant towards) the history of the word “boy” in this context.
Here I will borrow from an insightful piece by Jeff Mays on a recent court case around the use of the word “boy” in racial contexts:
For decades, the term “boy” coming from a white person's mouth was a way to verbally degrade a grown man. It was a constant reminder that blacks did not have equal standing under the law. It was a reinforcement that there was a legal caste system in place in this country and that black men were at the bottom of that system.
Even if you had gone to college, earned degrees, supported a family, raised up children – achievements and responsibilities that are characteristic of responsible adults – you could still be called a “boy.” In fact, it's degrading to call any man a boy.
The key here is context, as Ben stated during the KEYE piece. The Texas Aggie Conservatives are an extreme right-wing group with a history of intolerance — just look at their petition to end funding for GLBT center because it promotes “only one side of a political, religious, and sexual worldview,” i.e. acceptance and tolerance of GLBT individuals, clearly values abhorrent to the Texas Aggie Conservatives.
The Austinist had an interesting take, asking if the ad was racist or stupid. More than stupid, it's ignorant. At best, TAC wasn't aware of the racial connotation of depicting an adult African-American male as a boy, let alone said depiction emanating from a bunch of white, college-aged males in East Texas. But I'm disinclined to give TAC any benefit of the doubt, given that the group has a history of extreme intolerance and has embarrassed many of their fellow Aggies. (Also, the
Austinist vast majority of Internet commenters clearly need a course in critical race theory but that's an issue for another day.)
Kudos to Ben for writing the original post that sparked this story. If nothing else I'm glad it's stirring up a conversation and enabling people unaware of the history of the term “boy” and how TAC's image strikes many as offensive, ignorant, and yes, racist.