M-word articulates another stereotype

February 07, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Joey the Lip" has an official, albeit unwritten, invitation to attend two exhibits that focus on racial stereotyping and slavery now at two Baltimore museums.

You might know Joey the Lip by his more familiar title: Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the recently declared presidential candidate who has spent the last week surgically removing his foot from his mouth.

The 1940s saying was that "loose lips sink ships," and Biden's loose lips might have sunk his presidential bid before it was barely afloat. Speaking about Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who is also running for president, Biden called him the "first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean."

There are so many things wrong with what Biden said that it's hard to know which word to focus on first. Articulate? Bright? Clean? Mainstream? Whatever Biden thought he was trying to say, there are plenty of folks who felt he was saying that black people are rarely any of those things.

So on Monday, Anne Garside, the director of communications for the Maryland Historical Society, and Arvie Smith, an artist-in-residence at the society, extended an invitation to Joey the Lip to visit the exhibits At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland. Part of the exhibit is at the society; the other is at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.

"These are two stand-alone exhibits that complement each other," said Robert W. Rogers, the acting director of the society. The part of the exhibit that's pertinent to Biden's remarks is the section at the Lewis museum about racial stereotyping, which became more vicious, widespread and ludicrous after the Civil War in an attempt to justify slavery, racism and discrimination against black Americans.

Some view Joey the Lip's remarks as another stereotype.

"Just one more proof of how much this exhibit is needed," Garside said Monday as she led a tour of the society.

Smith, a black artist whose works appear in both exhibits, was even more strident in his criticism of Biden.

"It's that racism they don't recognize, the Bidens of the world," Smith said. "[Biden] was talking in a way that white people can understand. `He [Obama] is not a threat. He's not a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. He's a good [Negro].'"

I'll have to fess up that I wasn't as upset about Biden's comments as Garside and Smith are, probably because I was too busy cackling hysterically.

I love it when liberal Democrats say stupid things about race. Besides, are Biden's comments any more offensive than those uttered by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan implying that black Republicans and conservatives have some faulty wiring in their brains?

Conyers made his remarks to Michael Steele in a committee room of the Rayburn House Office Building shortly after Steele was elected lieutenant governor of Maryland in 2002. What's the difference in implying that blacks aren't clean or articulate and implying that all blacks should think alike?

Well, the color of the person saying it, apparently. Conyers is black. Joey the Lip is a.) white; and b.) male; which means c.) - his goose is officially cooked.

And perhaps it should be. The word that might have cooked Biden's goose isn't "articulate" or "clean." Maybe it's that m-word: mainstream.

What Biden was clumsily trying to say is that Obama is the first black presidential candidate who possessed all the qualities of being "mainstream, articulate and clean." Even detractors of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton can't deny they're articulate. But it's questionable if they appeal to mainstream voters. And are they clean in the sense that Biden probably meant it, which is to say free of scandal?

Puh-leese.

But Shirley Chisholm, a congresswoman from New York, also ran for president. She was articulate and free of scandal. Was Biden saying Chisholm wasn't mainstream?

"Or articulate or clean," Smith said. "[Biden's] making these broad generalizations. It was an incredible statement."

Indeed it was, one that might be more sexist than racist. Was Biden thinking of Jackson and Sharpton, and forgetting Chisholm's run for the presidency in 1972?

Shame on Biden if he did. And shame on him for not thinking about that word "mainstream" a little more. As the exhibits at the historical society and the Lewis museum make clear, slavery, the Fugitive Slave Law, racism and discrimination were all, at one time, mainstream things.

And let's not forget how Chisholm described herself as a congresswoman: "unbought and unbossed." If that kind of legislator isn't "mainstream," no wonder we've got the Congress we have.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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