The ‘Boy’ Thing
My colleague Alex Knapp has written about Rep. Geoff Davis’ reference to Barack Obama as “that boy” here and here. We’re in agreement that a) the word has racial context when used by a white man to describe a black man, b) Davis should have known better, and c) Davis’ particular use of the word could certainly have nonetheless been innocent.
There are two issues, however, on which I’m still not clear. I’ve spent most of my life in the South or around Southerners (such as in the military overseas). I’m 42. My only familiarity with the “boy” thing is from television and other vicarious exposure. So, while I know that “boy” was used as a demeaning reference to a black man, I don’t fully understand the nuances.
- Wasn’t it traditionally used in the second person? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in the third person — “that boy” — in that manner.
- My understanding is that “boy” was used as a means of condescension or establishing hierarchy rather than as a true ethnic slur. It was more akin to a 20-year-old white kid calling a 50-year-old black man by his first name in the days when one’s elders were “Mister So-and-So.” Or no?