Published Saturday, September 06, 2008
The Newnan Times-Herald
Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, R-Grantville, has been taking a lot of flack for calling Barack and Michelle Obama "uppity."
But the congressman didn't intend there to be any racial overtones to the comment, said his spokesman, Brian Robinson.
"Lynn was using the term as a synonym for elitist. He also used the phrase 'elite class,'" Robinson said.
"He was repeating a sentiment that Republicans have discussed -- that Obama seems somewhat arrogant," Robinson said. "And that is the dictionary definition" of uppity.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Westmoreland described the Obamas as "a member of an elitist class [of] individual that thinks that they're uppity," according to The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
According to The Associated Press, when the reporter then asked Westmoreland whether he intended to use the word, he said, "Yeah, uppity."
Robinson considers that evidence that Westmoreland was making an innocent remark.
"He obviously had no idea that the word had racial overtones. He feels terrible if anyone was offended by his use of that word, because that was not his intention," Robinson said.
Westmoreland's Democratic opponent, Stephen Camp, said he will take Westmoreland at his word "on what the Webster's definition of uppity is."
"But anyone who has lived and grown up in the South and in Georgia knows what that word means in the vernacular, and what it has meant for the past 50 and longer years in the discourse of race relations here," Camp said.
The dictionary definition of "uppity" is "putting on or marked by airs of superiority: arrogant, presumptuous," according to Merriam-Webster online. The dictionary states that the word dates from 1880.
The common use of the word, however, especially in the South, is to refer to black people who are trying to act better than they are.
In a statement, Westmoreland said "I've never heard that term used in a racially derogatory sense. It is important to note that the dictionary definition of 'uppity' is 'affecting an air of inflated self-esteem -- snobbish.' That's what we meant by uppity when we used it in the mill village where I grew up."
Shortly after Westmoreland's remarks became public, Camp sent a statement saying that "Lynn Westmoreland embarrassed the state of Georgia and the voters in the third district."
"Such comments are wholly inappropriate and have no place in our nation's political discourse," Camp said. "If Westmoreland thinks that this behavior and language is appropriate for a member of Congress, we cannot bring change to Washington soon enough."
The statement was "an honest misunderstanding," said Robinson.
When the Obama campaign was asked for a comment, "their comments were in response to the elitist charge," Robinson said. "They saw his comments the same way that Lynn intended them. We're certainly glad they're not making a racial issue of it, when no such sentiment was intended," Robinson said.
"It was not his intention to use a word that had overtones. He was unaware that the term was a loaded term," Robinson said. "He certainly never meant to hurt anyone's feelings."
The comments were "insensitive at best," said Camp.
"If he did not know, then he should have known what it meant, giving the constituency that he purports to represent," Camp said.
"I would encourage him to talk to a cross section of the district he represents and ask them if it has any racial connotation to it."