Obama the ‘Cotton-Picking President’

CNN's Rick Sanchez has apologized after referring to Barack Obama as the "cotton-picking president of the United States," which some have termed "racially tinged."

CNN’s Rick Sanchez has apologized after referring to Barack Obama as the “cotton-picking president of the United States,” which some have termed “racially tinged.”   His apology contains the back story:

This is what works about having a conversation with my viewers throughout this newscast, because you know that I’m here on Twitter and I read what you write during the commercial breaks. And many of you are pointing out a fault that I just- a faux pas that I just made, and I want to apologize for it, because I obviously didn’t mean any disrespect or anything when I said that.

But I was having that conversation with Jessica Yellin, and I think I said something to the effect- it’s so frustrating that people are lying about the president of the United States, that people are saying these things and it seems like he is defenseless to try and deal with it- although this weekend, the President came out and defended himself. And we had a very ample conversation about what it is that the President did, what he didn’t do, what his detractors say about him and what he can or can’t do.

In the middle of that conversation, at one point, I said, why can’t the president of the United States seem to figure this out? After all, he is the cotton-picking president of the United States. Well, soon after I said that, I started getting some Tweets from some of you, saying, you just said ‘cotton-picking president of the United States’ about the first black president of the United States? Without even realizing it?

I’ve was just saying ‘cotton picking’ because it’s a term that I’ve used because I grew up in the South. It’s a point that’s often used to illustrate frustration- not in any way shown to use- used to show any kind of disrespect. However, I apologize nonetheless for using it, in case it was taken by anyone as an act of disrespect. So, there you go.

Having also grown up in the South, I not only take Sanchez’ explanation at face value but understood it before he gave it.   “Cotton-picking” is one of a number of phrases used in substitution for profanity in polite Southern speech.  He would just have easily used the phrase for a white president.

Given the unfortunate connotations, however, offering an apology and explanation was the right course.

FILED UNDER: Media, Quick Takes, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Boyd says:

    So, is anyone going to point out that the President has about as much association with picking cotton as I have with going to the moon?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Sure.  And plenty of white folks picked cotton, for that matter.

    But Obama thinks of himself and is generally thought of as an African American.  That he personally has no connection to the legacy of slavery doesn’t mean he’s not burdened with its cultural baggage.

  3. Boyd says:

    <blockquote>That he personally has no connection to the legacy of slavery doesn’t mean he’s not burdened with its cultural baggage.</blockquote>

    That he’s black doesn’t mean he’s burdened with slavery’s cultural baggage, either. In fact, there’ s precious little evidence that he’s been negatively impacted by racism to any substantive degree.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    My dad from Western Illinois used it.  Never heard him swear or use a racial epitaph, but he wasn’t above calling someone a redneck.  Which is kind of funny because if you exclaim cotton-picker when the nut your tightening slips loose from your hands, you might be a redneck.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    In our era of racial hypersensitivity Sanchez probably did the right thing to apologize but it’s a shame he had to.

  6. Franklin says:

    My dad from Michigan uses it as well.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    So I was once in New Orleans and I went to visit a guy who had some kind of special woodworking lathe (?) I think, the only one of its kind in the world, and it had been written up some years before in “Fine Woodworking” magazine.  I walked into his shop and saw it in the back and my face lit up with a smile, and he followed my gaze.  He hurried over to me with a matching smile, and held out his hand to a shake with a kindred spirit.  And I opened my mouth and said something innocuous, maybe just “How do you do”, and the smile left his face without a trace and he stiffly shook my hand and answered my questions politely but tersely. And I thought long and hard afterward about what I had said, but couldn’t see any fault in it and finally came to the conclusion that it was because of my Yankee accent. The man thought he had found a kindred spirit but instead learned I was just a Yankee.
    And I wonder what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes, someone like me but black, and what it feels like to get that hostility whenever I would show up unexpectedly in a bigot’s world.  It might only be 1 in a 100, but that means it happens every few days, or 1 in 1000 – every couple of months or so.  But to say “In fact, there’ s precious little evidence that he’s been negatively impacted by racism to any substantive degree.”?  Even assuming that was the limit of the racism he experienced (it wasn’t – read his book), given an elementary understanding of human nature, I’d say he was inevitably affected by racism, and that it shaped his character.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    “In fact, there’ s precious little evidence that he’s been negatively impacted by racism to any substantive degree.”

    Somewhat debatable I’d have said. It’s a persistent undertone amongst those on the far right. They were never going to vote him anyway so in the narrow sense you’re probably right but it’s hard to say it hasn’t been a factor in the discourse surrounding his presidency or why are we even having this conversation about Sanchez? 

  9. James says:

    Guess he should’ve said “Dad-gum President”.

  10. James Joyner says:

    Guess he should’ve said “Dad-gum President”.

    Exactly.

  11. Redneck is actually racially tinged as well.  It originated in Scotland as a slang term for a presbyterian minister.  From there it moved to Ireland where it became a racial slur used by the Irish to refer to the Scotts-Irish.  During the disapora, the Irish mostly moved the the north east and the Scotts-Irish mostly moved to the rural south.  The terms then kinda spread into the northern vernacular as a term for any rural southerner.

  12. sam says:

    Yeah, and besides, my mother told me she used to chop cotton in Arkansas as a child.

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Redneck is actually racially tinged as well.”

    Redneck is certainly not a exclusively American term and as you describe it, it is tinged with nationalism not racism. The Irish and Scots are white Caucasians as in South Africa are the Boers who routinely referred to those of British background as Rooiinecks, or Blady Rooiinecks.