January 11th, 2008
09:58 AM ET
10 years ago

Martin: 'Shucking and jiving' and the campaign trail

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/11/art.cuomo.gi.jpg caption="Andrew Cuomo is a supporter of Hillary Clinton."](CNN) - During last week’s debate in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton took some heat from rival Barack Obama, by essentially saying words don’t mean much without action.

He responded that words do have meaning. With that in mind, do the words of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo have a hidden meaning?

In a discussion with an Albany radio station, Cuomo offered this assessment of Clinton’s win in New Hampshire as it relates to retail politics: ”It’s not a TV-crazed race. Frankly you can’t buy your way into it,” Cuomo said. “You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference. All those moves you can make with the press don’t work when you’re in someone’s living room.”

Yes, shuck and jive.

Now, Cuomo has quickly tried to clean up his statement by suggesting that it wasn’t meant at Obama – so who was he talking about, Bill Richardson? Yeah, right. He also said that he meant something akin to bobbing and weaving and ducking the tough questions. Well, why not say bobbing and weaving?

Some of you may be saying that this is stupid and ridiculous. But understand the racial history of America.

“Shucking and jiving” have long been words used as a negative assessment of African Americans, along the lines of a “foot shufflin’ Negro.” In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing the phrase used in reference to anyone white.

According to a story in Newsday, “The 1994 book ‘Juba to Jive, a Dictionary of African-American Slang,’ says ‘shuck and jive’ dates back to the 1870s and was an ‘originally southern 'Negro' expression for clowning, lying, pretense.’"

There is a such thing as political correctness gone mad, with folks being too sensitive. But it’s also about respect. And America’s long racial and sordid history still has ramifications today.

When African Americans hear former President Bill Clinton call Obama a kid, that is seen as an insult. He’s a 46-year-old man who is a United States senator. It is remindful of grown black men being called “boy” during the Jim Crow era. You might say no harm done, but trust me, the context has meaning.

The same goes for shuck and jive. I just don’t think for a second that if the battle was between John Edwards and Clinton, shuck and jive would have been used.

- CNN Contributor Roland Martin

soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. yellow

    Its roland make a big deal about stuff like this that is going to kill Obama if he gets the nomination. The Republicans are going to be brutal in the general election- we all know it. The goal in the general election is to win the votes of white middle class Americans that vote regularly. The "oh he's being racist to me" kind of stuff garners no pity with the voters- they reject it and go in the opposite direction. As a Democrat I'm smart enough to know that a vote for Obama is a vote for four more years of Republican rule.

    Go ahead Martin keep on destroying things for your candidate. Say hello to Jesse for me.

    January 11, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  2. R, Boston MA

    As an African American woman, I say Amen to that, Roland.

    January 11, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  3. Cindy

    Hate to show my age, but there was a popular sitcom some may recall "Good Times" (Ester Rolle, John Amos, Jimmy Walker...) that was (and still is) popular among African Americans. The show's theme song included the words "Shucking and Jiving." So why's it so racist for Cuoma to use the same words. Me thinks Roland Martin protests too much. I would think Obama doesn't benefit from "help" of this nature.

    January 11, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  4. Dan, NJ

    I also did a double take when Karl Rove called Obama "lazy."

    January 11, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  5. stanz

    I'm a caucasian male.General Andrew Cuomo should have put just a little more effort into making a political statement, instead of saying something like he said.

    So, anytime an African American sticks up for another, they're are doing it for race? If a Caucasian person sticks up for another, you never even notice.

    Remember the 22nd Amendment? Power accrues to immediate family members. We are just getting done with a situation like like, and we are threatened with another.

    January 11, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  6. JJD, WI

    I just don't understand why CNN recuite bankrupt people like Roland Martin just for the sake of having an african american in a panel discussion.
    This guy has nothing else to do but singing for brother-Obama.
    Is that what CNN expect from a political analyst?
    CNN should fire these kind of biased journalists.
    There are well-qualified black journalists in the country.

    January 11, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  7. Troy

    Very eloquently stated Mr. Martin. I couldnt agree more. This isn't about only Obama. It's about the actions, misdeeds, and a level of disrespect against all people of color. There are statements and phrases that have a very negative history in terms of social context in America...and this is one. These are statements that never should never be used in a public setting to refer a person of color. Mr. Cuomo is old enough, and educated enough, to know better.

    Roland isn't standing up and speaking out for Obama, he's demanding respect for himself and all others who look like him.

    January 11, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  8. John New York, NY

    The Clintons and their supporters need to be careful about any real or perceived anti-black insensitiviy, because Mrs. Clinton will never win the general election without earning black votes (blacks probably won't vote Republican, but they could just stay at home on election day)

    If the Green Party nominates Cynthia McKinney (who is black), Mrs. Clinton will be in huge trouble.

    January 11, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. Blair Potter

    This commentary by Roland Martin is RIGHT ON!!! No way would Cuomo have referred to a white candidate as shucking and jiving!

    January 11, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  10. DD, New York

    Actually, if Cuomo said "ducking questions" instead of shucking and jiving, would we be blogging this article at all today? Take away the shucking and jiving comment, what Cuomo said is true.

    January 11, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  11. Eric in Massachusetts

    Karl Rove called Obama "lazy" because he does not show up to vote in Congress. That's why.

    As far as race being a part of the "race". You bet it is. Oprah has never stumped for a candidate before. When you watch Oprah on TV, she is wonderful and very eloquent. Why is it that when she goes on the road to South Carolina and is taped at appearances there in front of southerners, that her vocabulary goes right out the window and she reduces herself to "ebonics"? It's sad. She is a smart woman. Obama is a smart man. If they would rise above the race issue, so would everyone else. They have made it an issue themselves. Too bad.

    January 11, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  12. J R, Bronx

    I was willing to look the other way on the "shuck and jive" until he tried to offer an explanation for it. The fact that he made claims that those comments were not directed at Obama is BS. Roland correctly points out, if not Obama than who? He wouldn't of used those words to describe anybody else in this campaign.

    But i do understand the point Yellow makes regarding the introduction of these race issues into this campaign and the potential to hurt the Obama candidacy. I'm happy and think it is rather prudent for the Obama ppl to leave these issues out in general. However as a political tool if there is an opportunity to use race effectively take it. I would akin that to Clinton's pity tears.

    Those who don't vote for Obama simply b/c he is black are cowards. There's never been a better opportunity to exercise your rights as a citizen and stand up for what America is suppose to be about then now.

    January 11, 2008 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  13. Larry

    Yes we are entitled to scrutinize every word and action of our politicians and elected officials. However it can be very easy to bring race into non-race issues and statements, thus continuing to fuel racial bias when it does not exist.

    January 11, 2008 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  14. California Indy

    I respect your opinion but either you work for the Clinton campaign or you bought their disgusting last-minute trash in New Hampshire lock-stock-and-barrel.

    Just because one is African-American doesn't mean they have to support Barack –of course not!!! And just because someone is a woman doesn't mean they're a sellout if they choose not to support Senator Clinton.

    However, to perpetuate the slime about flip-flopping that former President Clinton started in New Hampshire is reprehensible (real statesmanlike of him I might add).

    I'm amazed that it seems as if the African-American "establishment" has given Senator Clinton a pass on her remarkable insinuation last weekend that it was a white man (LBJ) and not MLK who really made the civil rights movement work.

    Holding that aside, Bill's twisting of Senator Obama's record on the war, the slime mailer about abortion that they know is not true, and Senator Clinton ripping a page out of the Rovian playbook by playing the race card are all reminders of the "change" that we'll get from a 3rd Clinton Administration.

    January 11, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  15. Lorraine Lewis Grenada Miss.

    There are to many incidents happening with cronies from the clinton camp. I am not saying this about whites as a whole but, her campaign operatives.

    1st: NH CoChair Bill Shaheen tries to associate Obama with selling drugs, b/c he said he tried it before.
    2nd: Bob Kerrey say Barack Hyssein Obama
    3rd: Bill Clinton saying are we prepared to roll the dice
    4th: Hillary trying to knock MLK
    5th: Bill calling Obama a 47 year old man a kid
    6th: Bill saying Obama's campaign is a fairytale
    Please tell me what is next. They claim too be a friend to the AA community but we must remember whats in the dark will eventually come to the light and the light shines more and more that the Clintons only care about themselves not AA or any Americans

    January 11, 2008 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  16. ron smith

    I normally have great respect and admiration for Roland Martin but in this article I think he is really stretching. Playing the race card at this stage of the game could be damaging to Senator Obama's campaign. It is quite apparent by Mr. Martin's editorial that he is squarely behind Obama and that is his absolute right to do so, but don't try to get your candidate elected by trying to smear others as racist. First of all, Mr. Cuomo does not speak for Senato Clinton, and by quoting him in an article where Martin also mentions an even more absurd assumption about something Bill Clinton said is a weak attempt to tie the two together. First of all, it is quite normal for an older man to refer to a younger man as "kid." To take that and insinuate that it is akin to being called the racially charged "boy" is insulting to Mr. Clinton who was made an honorary African-American by that communtiy when he was president. The Clintons have been nothing but loyal and supportive of the African-American community creating jobs and housing for the poor. Come on Mr. Martin, you're bigger than that.

    January 11, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  17. Mia, Stafford, VA

    Barack is about bringing people together, however as a AA, I personally find the comment quite OFFENSIVE "shucking and jiving" I have never heard used when talking or referring to any other race.

    I personally always thought very highly of Andrew Cuomo's father and had respect for Andrew; because they have always had a relationship with minorities there is NO DOUBT in my mind that he understood what he was saying.

    THESE ARE SAVVY POLITICIANS and all these day later apologies are getting old. Don't blame Roland for stating facts – it was racially insensitive.

    I wish we could all forget our history and all just get along, and one day I believe we will, but the truth is less than 40 years ago, AA's were still being treated as second class citizens. There are some places still in the USA where racism is running rampant and blantant. Come to this blog anyday of the week and you can see Racism is ALIVE & WELL.

    January 11, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  18. Geri, Sacramento

    "Shuckin' and jivin'" is a great expression. Originally, it may have come from blacks but it is one many people of all colors adopted. It sounds good, it expresses a certain atmosphere, and people use it in relationship to themselves and others of all colors. Puh-leeeeze! It's not an insult or racial slur. I'm white and love, not just the soul and heart of many black friends, but also their humor and colorful expressions.

    January 11, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  19. Cindy

    Oops...the Good Times theme did not mentin "shucking and jiving"...my mistake. Instead it was "scratchin and surviving." But still think too much is being made of it.

    January 11, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  20. Jack K.






    January 11, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  21. Monte Brown, New York, NY

    This is getting ridiculous. Roland Martin, why don’t you just admit that you, like Jesse Jackson and many others are only supporting Obama because he is black? Your pursuit is more insulting to black people. All black people are not sensitive and gullible as you want them to be. To call Bill or Hillary Clinton a racist or even to imply that they are racist is totally ludicrous and you know it. Please stop this nonsense. Your obsession with the prospects of having a black president is what is driving you to appeal to the emotions of black people. That, my friend, is demagoguery.

    Stop with this petty nonsense. The Clintons are not racists. I am a black man, and I get insulted more by the black people who are always pulling the race card and pointing the finger. We definitely don’t need that anymore. Hillary Clinton is more qualified than Obama because she has the experience. We can rely on Hillary to make change, but to speculate on Obama making change would be a roll of the dice. Point blank. There is nothing racial about that. I choose Hillary Clinton because it makes more sense than what the media is trying to convey.

    January 11, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  22. jcw

    And, so, the quagmire continues to entrap those who wear blinders on while walking through minefields for exercise. As the country grows older and older, it's still redefining itself, and that includes how to view its citizens. That includes being this "politically correct" attitude. Personally, it goes over my head. I wasn't raised to be disrespectful to my peers, my elders, nor anyone in general. But, hanging around some "elements", did give me an edge on how to look , think, and react to those who are different than I am. Still, I have that choice to use the appropriate vernacular, and not someone else's fad.

    Getting back into the quagmire of politics, and all its juicy language, Obama is courting the black voters. When Oprah gets on board, that's a sure fire way of doing it. When Obama got involved with Kenya' voting issues, that's another one. What I don't understand is why Kerry supports Obama. That's what I don't understand. Obama hasn't had time put in, nor the stripe earned on his sleeves, in dealing with the political arena. I can under how President Clinton referred to Obama as a kid, since, age wise, experience wise, he is! I'm a kid to my elders. I'm a kid at heart. i'm a kid when it comes to entering the arena for the first time. So, if it sounds racial and offensive, it ain't. It's only your perception that's telling you it's offensive. He IS A KID!! JFK, when he ran in the 60's, was in his MID 30'S. The age range of our political arena warriors looking to upset the king is 50+. They lived life, and survived the political battles. Obama just got elected into his post as a Junior Senator, with no political experience under his belt. And, we're gonna trust a man who doesn't have any experience for the job? That's like a plumber that's doing brain surgery.

    January 11, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  23. Mia, Stafford, VA

    Mr. Cuomo does not speak for her, but he has endorsed her.

    January 11, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  24. Brad, Columbia, SC

    I commend Mr. Martin for pointing out incidences when people slip up and say things that may not be deemed politically correct. Even if Cuomo was not meaning to offend, he should have the brains not to make references that some might view as insensitive. He is a public servent, not a columnist or pundint. As a young afican-american male, I personally do not feel that his comments were offensive, nor were intended to offend, but a person in his position should really know better.

    January 11, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  25. Cheryl Oxnard Ca

    Hillary Clinton's campaign has decided to bring the race card into this election by
    January 11, 2008 11:37 am ET

    There are to many incidents happening with cronies from the clinton camp. I am not saying this about whites as a whole but, her campaign operatives.

    1st: NH CoChair Bill Shaheen tries to associate Obama with selling drugs, b/c he said he tried it before.
    2nd: Bob Kerrey say Barack Hyssein Obama
    3rd: Bill Clinton saying are we prepared to roll the dice
    4th: Hillary trying to knock MLK
    5th: Bill calling Obama a 47 year old man a kid
    6th: Bill saying Obama's campaign is a fairytale
    7. Bill decided to knock on Nelson Mandela stating Hillary is stronger than Nelson.

    Let's see if Hillary can with stand being in prison for 25 years and come out normal. She could not stand dealing with this election in two states to where she had to fake a cry. Hell I voted for Bill in both of his election campaigns. However, I will not be voting for his wife. This election is not about tearing this country apart by bring out negative racist comments. That is exactly what her campaign has been doing this last month or so. She can not win therefore she is willing to tear someone else down because she can not win on her own.

    January 11, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
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