Monday, February 9, 2015

Was it a ‘George Jefferson’ impersonation? Or just inarticulate talk?

What should we think of the fact that mayoral hopeful Willie Wilson tried to say he’s not a prejudiced person by allegedly using a phrase that some people consider to be a racial slur?

As in “whitey.” The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week on the City Club of Chicago forum at which Wilson spoke, and is to have said, “to the whiteys here, I’m letting you know I ain’t prejudiced.”

WILSON TRIED TO pressure the Sun-Times into taking back that quote, but the newspaper (to its credit) refused to do so. For what it’s worth, John Kass of the Chicago Tribune wrote in his Sunday newspaper column that Wilson privately admitted to him that he said “whitey” and was sorry if anyone was offended.

But I’m wondering just what kind of person would really be offended at use of the word “whitey.” It comes across as so buffoonish to think that is really a slur. In fact, I suspect the only people who are offended by the phrase are certain white people whose own speech is laced with racial and ethnic slurs but who take offense at anything aimed at themselves.

Some people have recalled the Richard M. Daley moment of his first successful mayoral campaign where he is alleged to have used the phrase “white mayor” to describe what he thought the city of Chicago needed in order for government to be successful.

He tried using the same defense that Wilson is now using – perhaps his dialect just isn’t clear to certain ears. Then again, some people freak out whenever they hear a black public official of any type say “axed” when trying to say “asked.”

WILSON’S SPEECH IS laced with a tinge of southern drawl, and it is clear he’s not exaggerating when he says he has only a seventh grade education. Just like Daley (who was a DePaul law school graduate) never overcame the speech patterns picked up by growing up amongst Bridgeport neighborhood immigrants for whom English might not have been the first language.

As in it’s our fault for not understanding what the candidate was trying to say.

Although when I first heard about Wilson’s alleged “whitey” moment, my mind flipped back to George Jefferson, as in the character created by actor Sherman Helmsley to be the primary foil of bigoted Archie Bunker on the “All in the Family” program.

Those of us of a certain age remember Helmsley’s constant barking of “honky” at any white person who managed to annoy him – and George was easily offended by just about everybody who came into his sight.

THAT WAS DONE for laughs, and I have to admit to having the same reaction to Wilson’s so-called moment of rhetorical nonsense. It’s too ridiculous to take seriously!

Just as I don’t think this will hurt Wilson’s campaign in any significant way. The kind of people who will take offense are the kind who weren’t going to vote for him under any circumstances.

The rest of the electorate got its chuckle.

It also reminds me of the “All in the Family” episode where George Jefferson tried running for political office himself, spouting out high-minded ideals of public service while his real intention was to get to approve a city permit for his “cleaning store” to knock out the flower shop located next door.

I’D HATE TO think the Wilson campaign that talks high and mighty about representing the interests of all Chicago has equally selfish purposes in mind!

Besides, the part of Wilson’s quote that bothers me isn’t the “whitey” reference. It’s the part where he says, “I ain’t prejudiced” that riles me up.

Many people may speak more informally than they would read or write something – some like Gov. Bruce Rauner apparently do it on purpose, thinking it makes them appear to be more like the masses. That upsets me more than anything Wilson might have done.

But even someone who only went to school through the seventh grade should have learned that “ain’t” ain’t a word.


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