September 5th, 2008
03:35 PM ET
10 years ago

Congressman says he didn't know 'uppity' has racial overtones

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="A Georgia congressman told a Capitol Hill newspaper he thought the the Obamas were 'uppity.'"]
(CNN) – Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland was unaware a word he used to describe Barack and Michelle Obama on Thursday carries racial overtones, a spokesman for the congressman told CNN.

Westmoreland, who represents Georgia's third district, described the Obamas as "uppity" when asked by reporters in Washington to compare Repubican vice presidential canidate Sarah Palin with the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate.

“Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they’re a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they’re uppity,” Westmoreland said, according to the Capitol Hill Newspaper the Hill.

Westmoreland's spokesman, Brian Robinson, insisted the congressman did not know the word has been used with a racially derogatory intent against African-Americans.

"When describing the Obamas as part of an elite class, Congressman Westmoreland also used a synonym for elitist: uppity. He was using the dictionary definition of the word, which is having 'an inflated self-esteem' or 'snobbish.' He stands by that characterization and thinks it accurately describes the Democratic nominee. He was unaware that the word had racial overtones and he had absolutely no intention of using a word that can be considered offensive," Robinson said.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama's campaign, would not comment to CNN, but told The Hill, " “Sounds like Rep. Westmoreland should be careful throwing stones from his candidate’s eight glass houses."

Robinson said it is important to note the Obama campaign did not note the racial overtones of the word in its response.

"Congressman Westmoreland and Senator Obama may not agree on much, but at least they can agree that Congressman Westmoreland was not referring to race," Robinson said.

soundoff (156 Responses)
  1. Raleigh

    Excuse me, Mr. Westmoreland!

    Every adult in the South and some adults in other regions of this country know what the word "uppity" means when referring to a person of "color". The term "uppity" means that a person of color with higher education and decent financial means is striving to accomplish goals as if he or she were not a person of color, operating according to the rights and priviledges as are outlined in the United States Constitution.

    September 5, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  2. Gertrude

    Question: What are the racial overtones with the word uppity? I would not use that word to describe Obama, because whenever I think of some one who is uppity I think White, Martha's Vineyard Brat wearing vineyard vines.

    September 5, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  3. Carl

    Lost in all the possibility of the Racial overtones is the fact that after Obama has come out forcefully in defense of Palin's family stating that they should be off limits. The repukes continue to attack Barack's. Now lets see you clowns defend this!! But it wont matter cuz this post wont get past the CNN mods anyway!

    September 5, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  4. Bruce, Charlotte NC

    You know, I just don't get why people keep referring to the Obama's as elistist, or uppitty, or 'The One', or the messiah. Can someone please explain? I know the Senator has never referred to himself in this way... Actually, one of the many reasons I support Sen. Obama is because he has demonstrated quite the opposite in my opinion. He has asked the American people to be a part of Government again which has been quite refreshing. Over the last 7 years, the only thing our government has said to us is basically, 'Go Shopping' and 'Be Afraid, be Very Afraid'.

    September 5, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  5. Obama Supporter 08

    What did you expect from a guy from the south I'm sure you'll be hearing alot of ignorance from the "Grand Old Prejudice" Party. This isn't the first time. He's been called Boy among other things this year. When your losing and you can't really talk about issues most bigots just go back to they're roots

    September 5, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  6. Tesfana

    Why is the republican party whose foundation is stamped on so called morality, family values and spiritualy so intent on being so negative. Their use of deragotary and crude language makes obama look like he is on a higher plane than they are. The guy looks a lot more moral and seem to have better family values not mention self control even the gods would envy. He has been reluctant to go negative on the opposition even after the republican conventioniers threw all the mud at him they could. Republicans should be carefull with thier words so as not to drive away voters who are undecided.

    September 5, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  7. Vee from Valdosta

    Small minds talk about people, good minds talk about events, and great mind talk about ideas. It's obvious that when one has to resort to name calling that the person functions at the lowest level of intellect. And the congressman has just shown his true intellectual functioning.

    September 5, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  8. sueb

    Which Georgia does this congressman represent, the one in the American south (who knows what uppity means), the one near Russia or the one on the MOON!!!!

    September 5, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  9. Sarah

    Whatever! Anyone in the south knows what they mean when they say Uppity. Who's he kidding?

    September 5, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  10. Shaker

    Robert, you have that look that the people at the front of the bus did when Rosa Parks moved up! We are in the 21st centruy come and join the rest of us!

    September 5, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  11. Pinkie08

    Nothing uppity about the's the greedy Republicans who are snobby. I can't wait to vote in November!!!

    September 5, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  12. Spencer from VA

    A southern white guy knows what uppity means to black people. Saying he didn't know, In Joe Biden's words, is malarky.

    September 5, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  13. lmc

    Anyone who has been around long enough surely knows that "uppity" was definitely used to describe African Americans who were thought to be behaving "above their station." Where was this politician hiding until now?

    September 5, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  14. a

    how the hell can you spend 4 days trashing obama because he use to be a community organizer....then call him an elitist the next day. Republicans really make me wonder.....

    September 5, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  15. Ron

    McCain is not uppity he is rich, his wife is rich. she employs a lot of people who all pay tax and support the local economy sen. Obama given the fact that he made over $ last year, will probably be richer than McCain at 72 . they earned their money so lets leave that aside sen. McCain is used to having money and does not even think about it. sen. Obama is still basking in his new environment and loves to do things in a grandiose manner, making him seem uppity. he also has a nasty habit of ridiculing people and talking down to them, which also makes him seem uppity

    September 5, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  16. lena/dallas

    robert...don't hate! Just get educated and you too can be confident.


    September 5, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  17. aha

    The Obamas are uppity. The definition I know it by.
    African American are the most racist people in the world.
    ONE WORD ... Oprah
    90% or more African Americans support Barack because he is black.

    September 5, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  18. Toni

    Thats why some people need to shut up

    September 5, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  19. Barack Uda

    How can you publish garbage from the likes of Robert and Charlotte and not mine?

    September 5, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  20. Tatjana

    My goodness , now I have heard it all.
    So the word " uppity " has racial overtones , all I can say that whoever wants to promote and believe that , is insane.
    Uppity is a word in the english vocabulary and is being used and has been used for a long time , world wide.
    Get a life , grow up and stop feeding into racism.

    September 5, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  21. S

    To me, "uppity" is when someone thinks they are better than someone else. The racial overtone in it is similar to the comment made about Barack during the primaries that accused him of trying to "talk white".

    September 5, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  22. SENIOR


    September 5, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  23. Lacy

    You can excuse anything with "I didn't know" or "It was a joke" these days can't you?

    September 5, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  24. Sarah

    Robert, Crawl back into the hole you just came out of, and come out again November 5. But then again, you should get used to it, you'll be seeing their faces for 8 years as President and first lady!

    Obama/Biden '08

    September 5, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  25. Allen

    First, I think his comment is way off and as a republican, there is a good chance he IS racist.

    However, I doubt he meant his comment to be racist. I wasn't aware that "uppity" had racial overtones, either. Perhaps someone from the south should have more awareness of how it is commonly used today. But it's news to me.

    To deetee, the answer is yes. All of my life, the word "uppity" has been commonly used when referring to snobbish rich gated community type folk, most of whom were/are white. When I see the word "uppity", I think snobbish elite and not much else. The image that comes to mind when I see the word is a snobby rich white person who thinks they're better than everyone else.

    But I guess I learned something from this and will be careful not to use the word anymore.

    I do really doubt if this guy meant anything racial by it, though. This immediate jump to cry "racism" or "sexism" has gotten out of hand and is quite ridiculous.

    September 5, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
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