In post-post-racial USA some are finding that what they thought was a compliment, or that was at least rhetorically neutral, is actually taken by some others as an insult, or at least as rhetorically problematic. This is not new under the sun. “You’re [he’s/she’s/they’re/I’m/we’re] a credit to your [his/her/etc.] race“ is such a double-loaded phrase of years gone by. And during the recent presidential primaries we were treated to another oldie but goodie about candidate Barack Obama: “He’s so articulate.” Other comments have often induced subdued sighs and inward rollings-of-the-eyes of their intended targets but perhaps are only just now being openly communicated as annoying. Comments like “Oh, I don’t really think of you as Black [Asian, Latina/o, etc.]” and “Oh, I don’t see color.”
Macon D highlights another phrase, given prominence in the recent election season by both President Obama and his commentators alike:
“Only in America”:
It seems to me that they’re not really celebrating Obama himself; they’re using him to celebrate the supposedly exceptional country that elected him. They’re doing so in order to proclaim America an exception because its people have gotten over race to such an extent that they’re even willing to elect a black president. And so what they’re really talking about, when they say that such a thing could only happen in America, is white Americans.
We can focus on the sentiment itself, for example discussing the undertones of it or the truthfulness and accuracy (or lack) of it. But equally interesting and worthy of discussion is the various responses to the news that some find fault with such a sentiment.
The main reaction seems to be an odd sort of Recoil from Rudeness: It is impolite to suggest that racial progress has not been made, or has not been made to the extent that phrases like “Obama’s story is only possible in America” are meant to celebrate. Impolite and inconsiderate. (And–though we shouldn’t go here right now–“uppity.”) The phrase “don’t rain on my parade” comes to my mind.
Which illustrates well the whole conundrum. It is your parade, and I am but a squirrel who should be grateful for my acorn?