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Eric Holder, White Males and “Uppity” Black Men

Reality Check
By A. Peter Bailey



( - There are few people more detested and feared by many White males that what they consider  an “uppity Black man”, uppity being any Black man who looks them straight in the eyes when speaking to them, who does not smile unless hearing something to smile about, who does not shuffle his feet when around them. In other words, a Black man whom they can’t intimidate with bluster and ranting.

In the old days, from the era of enslavement through the 1960s, many Black men were assaulted and in numerous instances killed for coming off as being uppity, especially by White males in the former Confederate States of America. The most extreme; yet far from uncommon, reflection of that White male attitude on uppity Black males is a quote attributed to Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina in 1906 in response to President Teddy Roosevelt inviting Booker T. Washington to dine with him in the White House.

To Tillman and many others of his ilk, that was a flagrant outrage. Tillman declared bombastically that  “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again,” as quoted in the book, Up from History, the Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell, published in 2009.

I thought about that history when watching Rep. Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and his cohorts go after Attorney General Eric Holder around the flawed “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation. During the congressional hearings, it was clearly evident that Issa and his crew consider Holder an uppity Black man who had the nerve to not be intimidated by their name-calling and threats.

Of course they were not as vicious as Tillman was. Times and circumstances have changed. They had no desire to kill Holder; what they wanted to do was to totally destroy his reputation and ability to remain Attorney General. As they arrogantly questioned his integrity, his competence, his honesty, his right to be in that Cabinet position, Holder’s eyes and body language made it plain that Issa and his boys were right about one thing - Holder held them in contempt, total contempt. And they knew he felt that way which made them even more determined to goad him into saying something they could use politically against him and President Obama.

Holder remained cool and resolute, treating them with the scorn they so richly deserved. We and he should be proud that he is the first sitting Cabinet member to ever have been held in contempt of Congress. And we should also be proud that he is an uppity Black man.

Journalist/Lecturer A. Peter Bailey, a former associate editor of Ebony, is currently editor of Vital Issues: The Journal of African American Speeches. He can be reached at 202-716-4560.

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