The latest news in the ongoing publicity stunt that is Sarah Palin came when she was recently introduced to a Philadelphia Flyers home game as “the best known hockey mom in the United States.” Fortunately, she was met with a strong competing chorus of boos! Despite the encouraging boo birds at the game, the construct around Palin’s image posturing has continued to bother me. Her contrived use of language aimed at courting “Joe Six-Packs,” and “Hockey Moms,” during the debate became a focal point for what I’ve come to understand as the white privilege of being “folksy.” Just do a Google search on “Palin + Folksy” and numerous articles will appear from corporate media sources who either fail to question her sincerity in making such appeals or more importantly fail to question the construct of the “folksy” identity in the first place. In doing so, they perpetuate this unfortunate dynamic and share responsibility in legitimizing its lack of dual application.
Whenever uttered, “folksy,” is to be understood as directed at the white folk of the working class and rural areas of the U.S. Whenever I personally hear the word “folksy,” it always conjures up images of people like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Joe Hill. Of course, this is not what Palin is meant to embody. As an IWW Wobbly bard, Joe Hill popularized the folksy term, “pie in the sky,” and I generally love the great words that have come from the Guthrie-era folk music tradition such as “Hootinannie.” In the 21st century, however, this folksy tradition of the white working class counterculture pales in comparison to the much more sizable notion of the “what’s the matter with Kansas,” white working class that identifies with the Republican Party in hand with the GOP’s efforts to cultivate though image posturing their support through the so-called culture wars. “Hootinannies” have taken a back seat to “Hootinpalins” such as “darn right,” “you betcha,” and “doggone it” (which by the way are not recognized by MS Word as misspellings and are recognized by dictionary.com as “Americanisms”!)
While I don’t have a problem with folksy speak, the Palin project within the Republican framework is by definition exclusionary. White working class phrases, images, and sayings are fodder for pandering and seen as “American as apple pie.” Where this becomes inevitably exclusionary is if we try to extend the same privilege whites enjoy with being “folksy,” to the latino or black sections of the working class. We too have our “folksy” sayings and ways of speaking, but white supremacist racism deems them to be the byproduct of an uneducated people. Hell, intellectually valid linguistic theories of “Ebonics,” and “Chicano English,” are cast away almost immediately as cockamamie attempts to explain away the “ignorance,” of people of color who “fail” to speak the oh so mythical “standard English.”
Therefore, no politician running for president would ever think in a million years to “appeal” to these sectors of society by speaking the way they do. No corporate media systems would fall in line with the “folksy” analysis if such were to miraculously occur. For example, if I, Gabriel San Roman, were running for Vice President, could you imagine a scenario where in communicating with my peoples, I said in response to my opponent’s characterization of my policies: “Naw dogg, not even! You got it all twisted!” Or worse, if I spoke in Spanglish in the course of my campaign, and said, “Yo soy Gabriel San Roman, and I approve este mensaje!” We can even stop before words, as Obama and his wife can’t even get away with greeting gestures as their casual “fist bump,” turned into a “terrorist fist jab,” by Fox News. These scenarios are unfathomable precisely because as dictionary.com illustrates, in a white supremacist society, “white” can be the only universal identity with its folksy sayings and phrases given the privilege of transitioning into linguistically accepted “Americanisms!”
Language is but one component to the white privilege of being “folksy.” This identity construct also extends to the new notions of “Joe six-pack and hockey moms,” which has since replaced the famous portrayal of an Iowa farmer and his spinster daughter in the “American Gothic” painting. When you hear the term “hockey mom,” is the first image that your mind conjures up that of a black or latina woman? Of course not. Before “hockey moms,” were “soccer moms,” but as the park behind my house goes to show every Saturday and Sunday morning, that sport is just too “global,” i.e. latinas are soccer moms too! This construct is also patriarchal as well as it heavily identifies women in relation to their activities with their children. “Pony League Dads,” anyone?
For white men, we have “Joe six pack,” instead, which is a more egregious example of white privilege. Despite the fact, as Tim Wise notes, that the Center for Disease Control’s data shows that whites outspend blacks on alcohol per capita while drinking more often and more heavily, and the FBI statistically shows whites to comprise a majority of drunk drivers, they have the privilege of being positively identified as “Joe six pack.” It would be preposterous to assume that the principle of dual application would be in play for latinos and blacks. Instead, alcohol related identities for people of color coincide with the racist stereotypes of the white supremacist mindset. Instead of “Joe six pack,” every Cinco de Mayo, beer companies suggest latinos are boozin’ “Jose Micheladas,” while white college students throw “ghetto parties,” dressing up as their projected visions of O.E. drinkin’ blacks from the hood. Native Americans are mythologized as people who can’t hold their “firewater,” like good ol’ Joe six pack can. In the end, what we end up with are questions of what candidate you’d rather have a beer with all the while ignoring the fact that mainstream politics and the media are drunk on the white privilege of being “folksy.” In Texas talk, that’s “dumber than a sack of hammers!”