As you may have heard, over the weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden made an appearance at a NASCAR event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where they were serving as grand marshals to promote their Joining Forces initiative on behalf of veterans and military families—and during the event, they were booed.
The booing incident itself was bad enough, reflective of an unusual lack of the respect typically afforded the holders of the First- and Second Lady offices, irrespective of their individual politics. But yesterday, the odious Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to defend the booing and justify it by explaining that NASCAR fans, i.e. Real AmericansTM, understand that First Lady Michelle Obama is "uppity."
Citing the 2008 incident where then-Sen. Obama was secretly recorded at a fundraiser describing small town Pennsylvanians in hard economic times as getting "bitter" and "cling(ing) to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Limbaugh said "people that go to NASCAR races are the very people her husband called bitter clingers."Emphasis mine.
Limbaugh also said "we don't like being told what to eat; we don't like being told how much to exercise; we don't like being told what we've got to drive; we don't like wasting money; we don't like our economy being bankrupted. We don't like 14% unemployment. The question is, what the hell is there to cheer for when Miss Obama and Ms. Biden show up?"
The host then took it one step further. "I'll tell you something else," he said. "We don't like paying millions of dollars for Mrs. Obama's vacations. The NASCAR crowd doesn't quite understand why when the husband and the wife are going to the same place, the first lady has to take her own Boeing 757 with family and kids and hangers-on four hours earlier than her husband, who will be on his 747. NASCAR people understand that's a little bit of a waste. They understand it's a little bit of uppity-ism."
It was promptly, and rightly, noted by a number of people that "uppity" is a racially loaded term, used by white people to describe people of color, especially black people, who don't "know their place."
Conservative pundits/bloggers/apologists of various vocation are, as per usual, attempting to rip the word from its evident roots in order to claim it's not a racist sentiment. Suffice it to say, we're not going to debate that in this space. It is unequivocally a racially loaded term with a racist history, and only white privilege and/or a bullshit agenda could allow anyone to argue otherwise.
I want to note that, in addition to being a racially loaded term, "uppity" is also a misogynist dog whistle, used against women of all colors to indicate that we don't "know our place." Limbaugh, progenitor of the charming portmanteau "feminazis," was certainly playing not just to his listeners' nasty opinions about the Obamas as "uppity blacks," but their prejudices against "uppity women" who think they've got business at a manly event like NASCAR.
It isn't just that First Lady Obama was being demeaned as a black person; it's that she was being demeaned as a black woman.
Is that important? Of course it is. Just as it's important to understand that women of color cannot wrench pieces of their intersectional identity apart, tearing their race from their womanhood, it's important to understand the way that marginalizing narratives also work on multiple levels against women with intersectional identities.