The Great "Shuck and Jive" Debate of '08: Andrew Cuomo's Staff Responds

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I've been getting tremendous pressure from New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo's staff to walk back my post in which I passingly described Cuomo's recent "shuck and jive" comment as racist.

First here's quote in question:

[Iowa and New Hampshire] require you to do something no other race does, you know, and I like it, and I agree with you, it's a good thing. It's not a TV-crazed race, you know, you can't just buy your way through that race ... It doesn't work that way, it's frankly a more demanding process. You have to get on a bus, you have to go into a diner, you have to shake hands, you have to sit down with ten people in a living room. You can't shuck and jive at a press conference, you can't just put off reporters, because you have real people looking at you saying answer the question, you know, and all those moves you can make with the press don't work when you're in someone's living room.

Owing to the sensitive issues involved, we invited Cuomo's camp to submit a statement, which they did this morning:

Your blog grossly mischaracterizes the Attorney General's quote. Most important, the Attorney General wasn't even talking about Barack Obama. The Attorney General's point was a positive one: that Iowa and New Hampshire were important primaries because the candidates could not duck the voters' tough questions. He clearly meant no offense, as he was lavishly praising both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton in the interview. 'Bob and weave' would have been a better expression and is certainly all the Attorney General meant. The facts are important here and the New York Times and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle actually read the interview and clarified the mistake. They are attached below.

Cuomo's folks have done a tremendous job of putting this toothpaste back in the tube. But I'm not buying what they're selling. I also "actually read" the interview in question. The Cuomo camp claims that context here is everything — that because the "shuck and jive" comment was not a direct reference to Obama's performance as a candidate, that it was innocent.

Sometimes context is everything. But sometimes a remark like shuck and jive -- which specifically refers to the the artful oratorical prowess of black people to dissemble before white power -- transcends all context. There's one black candidate in this race -- one who dazzles the media to boot. And Cuomo used an explicitly racialized, and in my opinion old-school racist, phrase to describe why shimmering TV appearances were insufficient to win the early states. There is no "mistake." The racist dig is, indeed, unmistakable.

He could hardly have been more offensive if he had said "New Hampshire is not a minstrel show." The comment clearly resonated with one candidate and one candidate only. Cuomo's other 'out' -- that he was praising Obama elsewhere in the interview -- also strikes me as laughable. What was all the nastier about the remark is that it was done offhandedly, with a smile. And just ask Joe Biden if a even a compliment can't expose unintentional racism.

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