Another Take on Obama’s “Bitter” Remark

This is a new one for me–posting at the crack of dawn — but I found this article in my inbox. Mark Anthony Neal, noted associate professor of Black Popular Cullture at Duke University, thinks there is more to the uproar about the “bitter” remark (white working class people “cling to to guns or religion or antipathy to people who arent like them”) recently made my Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.  He writes about it in his Vibe Magazine blog, “Critical Noir”.   Here are excerpts from “Obama Elitist? I’m Hearing Something Else”:

So in a recent conversation, Barack Obama tried a little too hard to make that connection between the disaffection of the white working class and the white poor, and their proclivity to “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” as a way to make meaning of the diminishing returns of their lives. Guns and religion and “the other,” the Senator from Illinois argued were the comfort foods of choice for many. The fact that Obama suggested that some folk in these communities might be tad bitter, should not in and of itself raise any eyebrows, but the speed and derision that the presumptive (I’m sick of this word) Republican nominee John McCain and New York Senator Hillary Clinton asserted that Obama’s comments were “demeaning” and Obama, himself, out of touch, suggests that there is something else at play.

There’s no small irony that two of the wealthiest members of the Senate would describe a former community organizer as out of touch…I would argue that none of the candidates, including Senator Obama, are really in touch with what’s happening in small town America…

In a country where God and the flag are held in the highest esteem and any bitterness expressed toward the government–particularly in the post 9/11 era–is viewed with suspicion by some, if not an outright act of treason (think about reaction to Michelle Obama’s comments earlier this year.), it has often been easy for marginalized communities of all backgrounds, to identify scapegoats, be it in the form of racial conspiracy theories, anti-Black racism and the kind of xenophobia expressed in response to illegal, and likely legal immigration.

In any other Presidential campaign and in any other historical moment, the depiction of an opposition candidate as “elitist” and “out of touch” is slick and potentially effective politicking; it’s the reason why Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar, dumbed-himself-down in 1992. But the assertion that Barack Obama–an highly educated, upper-middle-class and articulate black man–is an “elitist,” is really code for “uppity nigger.” In terms of instigating anti-Black racism and violence in this country, few things were more potent than the perception that black people, and black men in particular, did not know their place–whether it be an act of “reckless eyeballing” or too prideful of a demeanor…What McCain and Clinton are essentially signaling to the white underclass and working poor is that “this nigger thinks he’s better than you.”….

As one that has been considered an “uppity negro” by both whites and blacks, I can see Professor Neal’s point. But it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the hoopla because I don’t see the problem with Obama’s remark.  Here’s it is in context:

“In a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long,” he told the donors. “The jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

I say, ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil”. Pandering to white working class voters and their apparent bitterness, as his opponent Senator Hillary Clinton is obviously doing, is not helping them get beyond their current economic state of affairs.   For more of my thoughts on the matter, “White Working Class Voters, This One is for You.” 


4 thoughts on “Another Take on Obama’s “Bitter” Remark

  1. White people are bitter and frustrated. Better-qualified white students, employees, etc. face intense racial discrimination. Obama and his liberal comrades call it “Affirmative Action”.
    Millions of white Americans see “people who aren’t like them” illegals and inner-city parasites sucking up on free benefits.
    Millions of tax paying white Americans can no longer use the public school system because “people who aren’t like them” have made the schools awash with violence, drugs, and gangster rap.

  2. I think Prof. Neal is trying to find an intellectual way out of Obama’s elitism.

    I think Obama does have disdain for working class white people, or maybe working class people of all colors. He often finds ways to blame others for his “clumsy” words, this man who is praised for his eloquence.

    I used to think the two candidates were very close, and I was really undecided. I liked her healthcare policy more and so I chose her. But the more I hear him make remarks that “we” allegedly miscontrue, the more I think he can’t accept responsibility. I am Duke grad. I am not stupid. I did grow up working class. I know what I read, and on the SATs if we were asked to answer “reading comprehension” questions about the remark, I bet most of us could it out, even if Prof. Neal can’t.

    And what person who is 46 years old acts surprised and says he hasn’t made up his mind yet whether life begins at conception? I think most adults know what they think about that, one way or another. Every woman sure does.

  3. The problem is that Obama stereotyped us all as a bunch of dumb hicks with his “cling” comment. I’m a small town guy. I’m college educated. I come from one of those white (Irish) working class background. My family was railroad builders turned auto workers. I’m working on being a lawyer. I know that government isn’t going to help me and I don’t ask for help from government. All those I know from similar backgrounds don’t expect help, nor want a lot of help from government, except for their jobs to stop being regulated away by the government’s policies.

    Obama’s problem is his mannerism and attitude. He reminds me of a slicker version of John Kerry. Same types of circles he hangs with. Same attitude of flyover country. Clinton’s the same way as far as I’m concerned. Irony is both have ties to the Chicago area. McCain tells us what he thinks, and did very well in small town areas in this state’s primary (I didn’t vote for him in the primary, but I will in the general)

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