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Obama’s Baby Mama

Today’s Manufactured Outrage of the Day* is that, on a mid-day Fox News program featuring Megyn Kelly and Michelle Malkin debating the impact of Michelle Obama on the race, the production assistant in charge of writing chyrons dubbed the would-be first Lady “Obama’s Baby Mama.” Apparently, this is a racial slur which suggests that she and Obama aren’t actually married and the children are illegitimate and therefore they should just head on back to Africa. Or something like that.

Obama’s Baby Mama Screencap

Salon‘s Alex Koppelman has the most linked story about this on memeorandum and he’s got a video of the segment and the above screencap, which I’ve appropriated. Otherwise, he’s in Just the Facts, Ma’am mode. His colleague, Joan Walsh, is more apoplectic, bringing out the 1990s catchphrase “Oh, No They Didn’t” to show her hip displeasure.

Where do you even start when criticizing Fox’s slur? Do you try to explain that “baby mama” is slang for the unmarried mother of a man’s child, and not his wife, or even a girlfriend? Are they racist, or just clueless? Isn’t there racism even in their cluelessness, if somebody didn’t know what “baby mama” means, but used it anyway? Even at Fox, won’t somebody have to apologize? Am I wasting my time even thinking about that?

Yes, actually.

Oliver Willis helpfully suggests, “Hey Fox News, Just Call Her A N***** And Be Done With It, Okay?”

So here’s the thing (because during this campaign I’m apparently learning that we black people have our own secret code and hand signals so this stuff has to be explained like you are speaking to a child at times), using the phrase “baby mama” to describe this woman implies that like too many people in the black community, she is a mother on her own with no man around doing his job.

Except, Barack and Michelle Obama are the exact opposite of this, and that is one of the reason America – especially black America – are so proud of them.

They’ve raised their children? Electing them to the White House is the least we can do!

Michelle Malkin, who was on air at the time and has nothing to do with writing the “Obama’s Baby Mama” chyron that appeared below her, doesn’t know what’s up with that.

I don’t know if the caption writer was making a lame attempt to be hip, clueless about the original etymology of the phrase, or both. But I do know that it was Michelle Obama herself who referred to Barack as her “baby’s daddy” and has used the phrase “baby daddy” to describe Barack while on the stump this year.

I’m going with “both.” Malkin also provides a helpful link to a two-year-old Slate piece with the awkward headline “” that explains that celebrity gossip rags have “seized upon baby-daddy and baby-mama, two useful terms that have long appeared in hip-hop and R&B lyrics, and are slowly stripping them of their emotional fangs.” Apparently, such black luminaries as Tom Cruise and Keven Federline had been referred to as “baby-daddy” even though they were married to the mother of their child.

So, perhaps Fox was secretly signaling that the Obamas are Scientologists?

UPDATE (Alex Knapp) I don’t usually weigh in on this sort of thing, but I have to disagree with my colleague James on this one–Fox’s caption on here is enormously disrespectful. I wholeheartedly agree with this portion of sci-fi author John Scalzi’s take on the matter:

Calling Michelle Obama a “baby mama” isn’t just Fox News have a happy casual larf; it’s using urban slang to a) remind you the Obamas are black, b) belittle a woman of considerable personal accomplishment, and c) frame Barack Obama’s relationship to his wife and children in a way that insults him, minimizes his love for and commitment to his family, and reinforces stereotypes about black men.

If we still had such a thing as civility and manners in this country, Michelle Obama would be referred to in the media as “Michelle Obama” or “Mrs. Obama”. Even if there was no racial intent on the part of Fox News, using the phrase “Baby Mama” for the wife of the Democratic nominee for President just shows no class, decorum, or manners.

UPDATE (James Joyner) I agree with Alex and with Steven Taylor that “Michelle Obama” or “Mrs. Obama” would be preferable and avoid the these sort of controversies. My strong guess — and I admittedly don’t know anything about this particular program or its tendencies — is that this was an attempt at “hip” and “cutesy” that backfired.

I much prefer my news without the hip and cutesy, thank you. You report, I decide and all that. But that’s a criticism of the Oprahization of the news rather than of Fox in general or this gaffe in particular.

____________

*If someone with better PhotoShop skills than I submits a graphic I like for this, I’ll use it henceforth, crediting the creator.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    Charles Schultz had Peanuts character Linus say it best: “You’re never quite so dumb as when you are trying to be smart.”

    Probably never a good idea to try and use slang you are not really familiar with. The Wikipedia entry on “baby mama (disambiguation)” and some of the sources Wiki references to seem to indicate it more slang for illegitamacy than a racial slur, but terms seem to crossover from one meaning to another all to easily. Baby Mama was a term I hadn’t heard before in any context, let alone a racial slur. Certainly its insulting even if not originally a racial slur.

    (No I don’t rely on wikipedia as the end source of information, but it does usually have some good information, especially when is cites sources)

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  2. Bithead says:

    Well, look, this kind of development is both expected and expected to repeat itself throughout the election process. Given the conditons set by Obama himself, one could hardly expect otherwise.

    What are those conditions? We cannot discuss questions of his character. We cannot discuss the character of those with whom he has had long and influential associations. We cannot discuss his most closely held belief systems. We cannot examine his past actions. We can, however, discuss his race… And I note Willis taking full advantage of this.

    So much for the post racial society.

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  3. [...] swear, I did not read James Joyner’s post at Outside The Beltway before writing this. He catches something else funny at Oliver WIllis’ Sphere: Related [...]

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  4. Hey, James, I made a little graphic with the screencap, you are welcome to it if you like it.

    Also, during my search for the liberal outrage, I found an interesting bit of amusing Irony at Pandagon.

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  5. James, I have a lot respect for your views, but you are just dead wrong here. This is just appalling. Can you imaging them calling Laura Bush George’s “Baby Mama”?

    It plays into the whole image — quite real actually — of unmarried mothers in the black community. The subtext is, “yeah, she may be a Princeton and Harvard educated lawyer, married, etc… but at heart she’s really just another one of those people.”

    When they use similar terms for Laura, then we’ll talk.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    William: Heh. I’m looking for something more generic, as there’s one of these stories just about every day. And, alas, it ain’t just the liberals.

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  7. Just further reason that watching too much Fox, MSNBC, and CNN is dangerous to one’s sanity.

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  8. Triumph says:

    They’ve raised their children? Electing them to the White House is the least we can do!

    James–this is just stupid. Willis is criticizing Fox’s racism–nowhere does he say that their parenting skills are what qualifies Obama as a potential president.

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  9. [...] no they didn’t. Why yes, they did. James Joyner calls this quite accurately the manufactured outrage of the day. And manufactured it is indeed. Here’s [...]

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  10. carpeicthus says:

    Oh, come on. I’m not someone to jump at PC shadows, but this is pretty obviously racist in context — it’s demeaning in a racially charged way, like calling Obama “boy,” except this is much harder to just be a slip of the tongue. Most of the other media examples you cite are already mainstream folks using the “Isn’t it funny how black people talk?” meme to punch up a headline, and as used here it’s a double-whammy.

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  11. OK-dokey. If you like the font, which is called “Baby Quilt,” try this one. Basically just a text graphic.

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  12. cian says:

    I’m an Obama supporter, but a caption under a still of Cindy McCain that read ‘McCain’s pill popping Partner’ would offend me and, I presume, James as well.

    The hatred for Michelle Obama is growing on the right. It seems a strong, independent black woman is just to scary for them.

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  13. Well, I can understand why that would, cian.

    Of course, in this case, we are simply talking about modern slang for Obama’s children’s mother, which is why this is a manufactured liberal outrage event.

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  14. Michael says:

    I’m surprised it hasn’t been mentioned, but there is currently a movie in US theaters called Baby Mama. Most likely some Fox staffer saw it recently, thought it was funny, and assumed everyone would think his reference was just as funny, not realizing that the movie itself was making light of the not-so-funny reality that the phrase is attached to in black culture.

    I’ll chalk this one up to ignorance, with a fair amount of plain stupidity. I find it hard to believe that racism was a factor.

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  15. Good point, Michael. Add in the super duper hip “fist bump,” and that it is probably a young intern doing the bottom scroller, and you get something silly.

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  16. Michael…. but Fox makes kind of “mistake” all the time. And it is always this kind of “mistake.” It is Republican politicians caught with their pants down and getting a (D-XX)after their names. Why does Fox make these “mistakes” if they are just honest “mistakes” in ways that insult or embarrass Republicans.

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  17. Michelle Obama Is “Obama’s Baby Mama” Fox News Says…

    If controversy brings viewers, Fox News’ latest will get it some new viewers. But Fox News’ latest headline-making and blog-rage-sparking controversy is now bringing it under fire as an institution that displayed racist inclinations in a he…

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  18. cian says:

    Of course, in this case, we are simply talking about modern slang for Obama’s children’s mother, which is why this is a manufactured liberal outrage event.

    Yeah, modern slang for ‘your children are illegitimate’. Nothing to offend the ‘Family Values’ party there.

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  19. Your daily manufactured-outrage-from-the-far-left alert…

    The far left is in the midst of having a coronary over a Fox News caption that appeared during a segment on Michelle Obama yesterday afternoon. The caption read, “Outraged Liberals: Stop Picking on Obama’s Baby Mama!”
    Here’s a …

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  20. Bithead says:

    Michael…. but Fox makes kind of “mistake” all the time.

    Well, so do CBS/NBC/ABC/CNN/MSNBC.
    Difference is, nobody’s WATCHING them anymore…

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  21. Michael says:

    Michael…. but Fox makes kind of “mistake” all the time.

    Hey, nobody ever accused them of quality.

    Why does Fox make these “mistakes” if they are just honest “mistakes” in ways that insult or embarrass Republicans.

    These things only serve to embarrass Fox News, I would think.

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  22. Franklin says:

    Between Fox commentators suggesting that Obama be assassinated (as a very lame joke), calling affectionate touching ‘terrorist fist jabbing’, and now this, I’d have to say they’ve exited the world of journalism. This isn’t even a valid commentary, it’s just pure hate.

    And again, the comment that we should elect them because they raised their children, it’s not clear that you even understand what the complaint is. Try commenting AFTER you figure it out next time.

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  23. Right Voices says:

    Mugabe militias burning women and children alive…a wave of worsening brutality before the run-off presidential elections in just over two weeks…

    Militias associated with Robert Mugabe have begun burning family members of the political opposition alive:
    The men who pulled up in three white pickup trucks were looking for Patson Chipiro, head of the Zimbabwean opposition party in Mhondoro district…

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  24. Why does Fox make these “mistakes” if they are just honest “mistakes” in ways that insult or embarrass Republicans.

    Oops, obviously, there is a “NEVER” missing from my sentence. Fox never does this to embarrass the GOP, always against the Dems.

    It is obviously a deliberate policy of insult and innuendo.

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  25. William d'Inger says:

    It’s depressing to realize Joycelyn Elders was right — we should be teaching Ebonics in school.

    Oh wait! She wanted to teach ‘em the Hand Jive. Never mind.

    After 60 years of hearing the MSM trash talk conservatives, it’s refreshing to have Fox turn the tables.

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  26. Michael Pflegler says:

    As others have pointed out,

    They’ve raised their children? Electing them to the White House is the least we can do!

    is most revealing regarding Mr. Joyner’s colored perspective. As far as the attitude of FoxNews’ scroll scribe, it is clear from the context — stop picking on Michelle — that the intent was to issue a “F.U.” and to say, “In fact, we will pick on Michelle in a manner appropriate to our careful selection of the phrase ‘picking on’ that emphasizes a distinction worthy of consciousness raising reinforcement.”

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  27. Wayne says:

    It sounds like the type of terms the Obama campaign uses itself including the tern “baby-daddy”.

    Do we want four years of the left making racial issues out of anything bad said about the our president?

    Of course it is O.K. to say all sort of nasty thing about a white Republican President or candidate but don’t dear say anything negative about a Democrat especially if they are black or female.

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  28. If the term “baby mama” denotes illegitimacy, then why did Michelle Obama use it? Did she mean that her kids are illegitimate?

    Or is the liberal outrage over this really just because they need something to get outraged over, no matter how minor?

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  29. William d'Inger says:

    Or is the liberal outrage over this really just because they need something to get outraged over, no matter how minor?

    Get used to it, William. Racial indignation is going to be a major Democrat theme for this election. There’s a 50/50 chance it will become the major theme. They will distort and exaggerate every instance they can find. If it gets really slow, they’ll make up cases out of thin air. Rest assured, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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  30. [...] to Outside the Beltway, Rosemary’s Thoughts, third world county, Allie is Wired, Adam’s Blog, Shadowscope, The [...]

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  31. Michael says:

    If the term “baby mama” denotes illegitimacy, then why did Michelle Obama use it?

    When did she use it?

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  32. cian says:

    If the term “baby mama” denotes illegitimacy, then why did Michelle Obama use it? Did she mean that her kids are illegitimate?

    If William can provide a link to an example of Michelle Obama using this phrase then I will withdraw my criticism of Fox, but I doubt one exists and will so conclude that William is just another run-of-the-mill rightwing smear merchant terrified by the idea that a black woman might come to occupy ‘his’ white house.

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  33. Here ya go.

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  34. Michael says:

    “My baby’s daddy” != “baby mama”. Sorry, no match.

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  35. cian says:

    My baby’s daddy” != “baby mama”. Sorry, no match.

    I seriously doubt she was referring to him as the father of only one of her children. That should have read ‘my babies daddy’.

    There ya go.

    Anyway, I was right first time- just a run-of-the-mill right wing smear merchant.

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  36. Anderson says:

    Of course it’s prejudiced. White pols don’t get their wives tagged as “baby mama.”

    As my Miss. in-laws have made abundantly clear to me, there are Americans who are vehemently against Obama b/c he’s black. They’re a major constituency of FoxNews and of the GOP.

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  37. [...] Alex Knapp at Outside the Beltway makes probably the best point about this whole thing: UPDATE (Alex Knapp) I don’t usually weigh in on this sort of thing, but I have to disagree with [...]

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  38. Michael says:

    I seriously doubt she was referring to him as the father of only one of her children. That should have read ‘my babies daddy’.

    Given that it was a transcription of an oral introduction, she may well have been using the plural. There’s not much phonetic difference between “baby’s” and “babies’”.

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  39. Wayne says:

    “My baby’s daddy” != “baby mama”. Sorry, no match.
    It should read “My (Michelle Obama’s) baby’s daddy” != “Obama’s baby mama”.

    That sounds pretty similar to me. Obama has referred to his wife as “my baby’s mother” which is also similar. The term mama and mother are interchangeable is some areas of this country. I understand that many areas use different slang and the term “baby mama” had at least at one time been use in a negative matter. However you can’t expect everyone to know every slang every used.

    It amazes me how many who thought it was perfectly OK for Obama to use the sometime sexist term of “Sweetie” are so upset about this.

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  40. Michael says:

    Obama has referred to his wife as “my baby’s mother” which is also similar.

    No, it’s not. It’s not even close.

    I understand that many areas use different slang and the term “baby mama” had at least at one time been use in a negative matter. However you can’t expect everyone to know every slang every used.

    This we agree on, and if you scroll up I attribute it to ignorance not malice.

    It amazes me how many who thought it was perfectly OK for Obama to use the sometime sexist term of “Sweetie” are so upset about this.

    See, I didn’t think that was offensive, but when discussing it with my wife, who is more liberal than I am, she said she would have been offended. Again, ignorance (on my part that time), not malice.

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  41. James Joyner says:

    It amazes me how many who thought it was perfectly OK for Obama to use the sometime sexist term of “Sweetie” are so upset about this.

    You’ll note that I didn’t think either were a big deal.

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  42. Wayne says:

    James
    There are some of us that have been consistent but many who haven’t.

    Michael
    You are starting to make me think that you are a reasonable person even though we disagree on many things. Reasonable people can disagree.

    However your statement of it is not even close depends on your reference point. I know people who seldom if ever use the term mother but ma or mama instead. They tend to be southern lower income types but there’s nothing wrong with that. People tend to pick up the terms and slang of those where they live near to. That doesn’t mean if they move they forget old terms and slang. Besides the screen cap sounded like it was a quote from a liberal. I think it was in poor taste regardless of who said it. However I don’t think it is that big of deal either.

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  43. bornonthefourth says:

    baby mamma can be understood as many associations in the inner city but has no meaning of an illegitimate child. The true ignorance is the lack of understanding of poor people,not black people. If a news caster says y’all are they discriminating toward southerners. sorry, Obama did not grow up poor or black. He was raised rich and white in comparison to any inner city child. When the Obamas need to tap into the youth vote they use slang or the hand punch but no one else is supposed to or they will be railroaded as racist. Obama is not a real nigga and would piss his tightie whities if he had to walk down any hoodie. The Obamas are the candidates of special interest and for that they are black. There is more poverty here than ever, Obama has 4 months to prove he can start to change that. If he does Ill vote for him, If he keeps repeating himself and taking money from Exxon he will lose big. God Bless America again

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  44. We Are Going to Miss George W. Bush!…

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  45. 123beta says:

    Browser Wars…

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  46. [...] Is it “liberal” to be concerned that Fox News (that clarion of “fair and balanced” conservative news) referred to Michelle Obama as “baby mama?” Maybe it is since even the “respectable” conservative blogsphere is trying to justify it. [...]

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