Why Aren’t the Media Talking About This Racially-Coded Language?

“If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” (South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint ((White House Plans to Use DeMint’s “Waterloo” Quote to Rally the Troops.)) ).

Here’s why I listen to Thom Hartmann every day.

Hartmann received emails from several of his listeners in South Carolina and other southern states, asking why no one is talking about the racially-charged language — “dog whistle language,” he calls it — that Senator Jim DeMint used in his now infamous “Waterloo” remark about Obama.

Almost everyone focused on the familiar Waterloo reference, offensive in its own way.

But apparently no one has mentioned the much more inflammatory and offensive implications of the racially-coded term, “break.”

For two hundred years, as Hartmann tells it, “slave breaking” was an industry in the South, a process much like breaking a horse, designed to pacify unruly slaves. It’s all described explicitly in the “Willie Lynch letter.” History has preserved the dishonorable legacy of Lynch, a slave owner and the original “slave breaker,” in the term “lynching.”

I was skeptical as Hartmann began his segment, but convinced by the time he’d finished. He quoted Frederick Douglas, who described the practice of “slave breaking” in his memoir of his slave days:

On one of the hottest days of the month of August, 1833, Bill Smith, William Hughes, a slave named Eli, and myself were engaged in fanning wheat….The work was simple, requiring strength rather than intellect; yet, to one entirely unused to such work, it came very hard. About three o’clock of that day, I broke down; my strength failed me; I was seized with a violent aching of the head, attended with extreme dizziness; I trembled in every limb….

Mr. Covey was at the house, about one hundred yards from the treading- yard where we were fanning. On hearing the fan stop, he left immediately, and came to the spot where we were. He hastily enquired what the matter was. Bill answered that I was sick, and there was no one to bring wheat to the fan. I had by this time crawled away under the side of the post and rail- fence by which the yard was enclosed, hoping to find relief by getting out of the sun. He then asked where I was. He was told by one of the hands. He came to the spot, and after looking at me awhile, asked me what was the matter. I told him as well as I could, for I scarce had strength to speak. He then gave me a savage kick in the side, and told me to get up. I tried to do so, but fell back in the attempt. He gave me another kick, and again told me to rise. I again tried, and succeeded in gaining my feet: but, stopping to get the tub with which I was feeding the fan, I again staggered and fell. While down in this situation, Mr. Covey took up the hickory slat with which Hughes had been striking off the half- bushel measure, and with it gave me a heavy blow upon the head, making a large wound, and the blood ran freely; and with this, again told me to get up … ((Frederick Douglass resists a slave breaker (1845))).

Surely Senator Jim DeMint — and most black people in the South ((A young black American college-educated woman called Hartmann after he finished his segment on “slave breaking” and admitted that she was ashamed of not having heard about the practice until her elderly grandfather recently explained it to her.))  — are aware of the subtext of his message when he talks about “breaking” America’s first African-American president.

Listen to Hartmann:

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