Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
Special Correspondent, Essence Magazine/Essence.com
When I read about Kentucky Republican Congressman Geoff Davis using the word "boy" in reference to Sen. Barack Obama, I immediately thought of a routine, and subsequent book, by comedian Cedric the Entertainer.
While watching the movie, "The Kings of Comedy," Ced had me rolling in the aisle talking about being a "grown ass man," and that eventually became the title of his best-selling book, "Grown-A$$ Man."
For those who think that African Americans are too sensitive over this issue, and it's just a well-meaning person making a mistake, I understand that. But others must understand the history of African Americans, and what it has always meant to black men for someone to call them a "boy."
One, it's the ultimate sign of disrespect, and is often more offensive than calling them the N-word. For years black men were summarily dismissed and treated with disregard. It was as if their stature was diminished when someone white called them a boy. I've heard black men describe the hurt and pain of growing up and having someone white call them a boy in front of their own child.
Again, I know some are reading this and saying, "Why can't we all just get along and forget all this race stuff?"
That would be great, but our history is truly our history, and there are things left over that when said, immediately conjure up those feelings of old.
Do you remember the images from the sanitation strike that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading in Memphis in 1968? The most striking visual was that of the male protestors wearing signs saying, "I Am A Man!"
There was a reason they were wearing those signs.
You may have caught the Showtime movie, "10,000 Black Men Named George," which tells the story of labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who organized the black porters of the Pullman Rail Company during the1920s, known as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The name is derived from the fact that white passengers never bothered to learn the names of the porters, and would dismissively call them all George, which was seen during those days as a racial slur.
Remember earlier this year when former President Bill Clinton referred to Obama as a "kid"? That evoked a similar reaction by some because it was seen as being dismissive of a sitting U.S. senator who also is a grown man with a wife and two daughters. Where I come from, we call that a man, and not a boy or kid.
I have my own story when it comes to being called a boy.
I recall working at the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman newspaper and an older white male colleague was talking to me, and in the conversation, he referenced me as a boy. I knew he meant no harm, but don't think for a second that it didn't cross my mind about the word. He also stiffened up, realized what he said and quickly replied, "Now you know I didn't mean to disparage you by calling you a boy?"
In this presidential campaign we have had many instances where individuals have made references that were perceived as sexist or racist. Some have been called overt; others covert.
I've heard men blow off comments about Sen. Hillary Clinton that are clearly sexist, and we do well to recognize that. I have a wife, sisters and nieces, and I sure don't want them treated with disrespect, so not objecting to sexism towards Clinton means that attitude will remain, and it may affect the women in my life one day.
Heck, Obama's comments about rural folks in Pennsylvania and the visceral reaction by some shows that even when it comes to guns and religion, some folks see that as an attack on who they are and where they come from.
When people suggest that we all shouldn't be so sensitive, I get what they are saying, but I also know that's always easy to say when you aren't the one who is being targeted.
Watching what you say, and realizing the meaning what you say is not being politically correct. It's realizing that words do matter, and they have meaning.
This brouhaha over the comments by the Kentucky congressman won't blow up into a major story, and we'll all likely forget. But let's treat all of this as a history lesson on race and gender, and as a window into a world that many of us either don't know about, ignore or long forgot.
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