The President Speaking Southern

Many thanks to Imani Gandy, the indomitable Angry Black Lady, herself – not only a fellow alumna of my alma mater, but the savviest of all political pundits about today. She pointed me in the direction of this.

Jonathan Chait has written a couple of articles about the infamous out-of-context remark made by the President and hammered home by Willard as evidence that the President is out-of-touch with small business-owners.

Yes, the ubiqutious “You didn’t build that” remark.

In two articles, Chait argues that the Romney campaign’s success in twisting and spinning this remark is a subtle fear-play on Anglo-Saxon Americans who don’t want to see themselves as necessarily racist, but who, nevertheless, are convinced to see the President in this instance, in the guise of their idea of a stereotypical black politician. Chait argues that the Romney campaign are capitalising on the President sounding black in that comment. You can read his articles about that premise here and here.

I think Chait probably has a point, but I think there’s another positive point to be made here also.

I remember when the President made that speech. He was in Virginia, my home state. Not only was he in Virginia, he was in the part of Virginia that the McCain operative deemed “real” Virginia, back in the 2008 campaign. He was down in Roanoke. Big Lick. On the cusp of the Southwestern Blue Ridge, bordering on Tennessee. You couldn’t get more deeper into Virginia’s innards than that.

More importantly, he was speaking to those people in their language. What sounded black to some, sounded Southern to me. The President was in a Southern swing state, speaking to rural-ish voters in an accent they’d find familiar. There are black people and white people in the South and – guess what? – most of the time, they sound the same. Governor Douglas Wilder, an African-American octogenarian, speaks with the same mellifluous Virginia accent borne by my aunts, white women of his generation; and that accent is dying out with that demographic, black and white.

If the Romney campaign is subtly pushing the race meme with this, people in the South need to listen to the President closely – he who not only has Kansas roots, but also is a great-great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis.

Here’s the President speaking Southern to Southerners:-

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