by Rick Moran
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is in trouble for uttering a "racist" colloquialism. Or maybe he didn't say anything wrong. Or maybe, his political oppopents decided that saying the Florida governor's race is so "cottonpickin' important" constitutes an egregious breach of racial etiquette, for which he should be cast into the outer darkness.
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue utters a common southern colloquialism that is deliberately interpreted as "racist."
Poor Sonny. He's fallen victim to "racism creep" - the modern day phenomenon where the definition of "racism" bobs and weaves like Muhammed Ali, eventually ensnaring anyone that the racialists believe deserves to be laid low in the public mind.
Oooh. Is that "racist" to mention the greatest heavyweight boxer in history who happens to be black?? So sorry.
During a Saturday rally for Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, President Donald Trump’s top agriculture official used the term “cotton-pickin'” to describe the importance of Florida’s gubernatorial race, which also features Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is running to be Florida's first black governor.There are other things that matter, including definitions, context, and common usage. Words matter. It matters how they are used. It matters what context they are used in. And it matters that the definition of those words is generally accepted by most English speaking peoples on the planet.
“Public policy matters. Leadership matters,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at a Lakeland rally, according to audio provided by American Bridge. “And that is why this election is so cotton-pickin' important to the state of Florida. I hope you all don’t mess it up.”
What doesn't matter is changing the definition of a word or a phrase entirely for purposes of political attack. That's what's happening here, and has been happening for at least a decade.
For 8 years under America's first black president, the terms "racist" and "racism" lost their enormous power to shame, to injure, to humiliate by sheer overuse. What used to be words intended to shock morphed into just another line of political attack. Applying the epithet "racist" to someone whose only transgression was disagreeing with a black president had the unintended effect of inuring the American people to the power of the word itself.
"Cottonpickin'" is only racist if someone chooses to make it so. Not to be too esoteric, but Politico mistakenly - or deliberately - hyphenated the words - "cotton-pickin'"- thus rendering the phrase more racially suggestive. Instead, many dictionaries combine the two words - "cottonpickin" to suggest a common colloquialism. As it is, no dictionary identifies the phrase - hyphenated or not - as a racial slur.
When language is abused in this manner, we all lose. It cheapens our politics and renders political discussions meaningless. But that's the point, isn't it? The goal isn't discussion. It's chastizement. And in the process of berating political opponents and scoring meaningless points, we lose the basic ability to communicate with each other.
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