Experts On Race Criticize Bolling's 'Very Old Racist Imagery'

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Responding to the firestorm caused by his racially charged criticisms of President Obama, Fox host Eric Bolling has insisted that he is "[definitely] not a racist." But experts on race and culture tell Media Matters that Bolling's rhetoric consists of "very old racist imagery" and appears to "purposefully" invoke demeaning and harmful racial stereotypes.

Last month, Bolling posted on his Facebook and Twitter accounts that Obama was "chugging 40's in IRE while tornadoes ravage MO." He repeated the line on Fox Business' Follow the Money later that night, and then -- after being criticized -- tried to amend his attack by saying that he "took some heat for saying Obama should have delayed his bar crawl, or whatever he's doing over there."

This past Friday, during Follow the Money, he teased a segment about the White House hosting the president of Gabon by saying, "Guess who's coming to dinner? A dictator. Mr. Obama shares a laugh with one of Africa's kleptocrats. It's not first time he's had a hoodlum in the hizzouse."

While introducing the segment itself, Bolling stated: "So what's with all the hoods in the hizzy? A month after the White House hosted the rapper Common, who glorifies violence on cops, the president opened his doors to one of Africa's most evil dictators. Here's Ali Bongo, the Gabonese president, who's been accused of human rights violations and plundering billions of his country's dollars."

James Unnever, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and co-author of A Theory of African-American Offending: Race, Racism and Crime (Routledge 2011), said such comments seek to demean Obama because of his skin color.

"It is using language that is demeaning to African-Americans and characterizes all African-Americans as having or sharing the same slangs, as if Obama would use those kinds of slang words," he said. "The use of the slang words that this person used essentially are code words for typifying African-Americans as being, if you wish, ghetto residents. Buried within that is the implication of associating blacks with crime and crime with blacks."

John Durst, associate professor of sociology at Ohio Wesleyan University, is overseeing a study on race in Columbus, Ohio. He stated in an e-mail after reviewing the comments:

These are all terms more commonly used in poor African-American communities. While not exclusively found in African-American communities, used in such a context for the President of the United States by a national media organization (conservative or not) is clearly painting a picture of Obama as a BLACK MALE who has not made it beyond the ghetto and can be portrayed in such light.

Durst added:,

It's modern stereotyping all the way...not referring to Obama as a [N-word], colored, porch monkey, etc...but playing on code language to make his comments be seen in a race light...and that IS racism.

Frances Negron-Muntaner, director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University, said Bolling's choice of words seeks to connect Obama to a negative stereotype of African-Americans.

"The vocabulary used by Bolling appears to be purposefully designed to link President Obama to media stereotypes of black masculinity as violent, irresponsible and/or transgressive of social norms," she wrote in an e-mail. "This is accomplished through at least two rhetorical strategies: (1) by saying that the people that Obama relates to are violent black men, and (2) by suggesting that in relating to such people, Obama himself is condoning, supporting and/or embodying black violence on (white) America.

"The purposefulness is evident in that he made repeated and consistent references to media that feature African-American men in particular ways and situations. For instance, as we know, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner refers to a movie of the same name in which a white woman brings her black fiancé to meet her parents, thus transgressing the racial order.

"The use of the phrase 'hoodlums in the hizzouse' to refer to the visits of Ali Bogon and rapper Common to the White House implies that President Obama insists in introducing different forms of black violence - rappers and African dictators - into the nation. In other words, Obama is portrayed as continuously inviting black 'hoodlums' to the White House, thus behaving 'blackly' himself. And, of course, the reference to 'chugging 40's in IRE while tornadoes ravage MO' posits a black president that, as other presumably irresponsible black men, prefers to get drunk on cheap liquor than tend to his responsibilities, in this case, the mostly white victims of tornadoes in Missouri.

"Now, it is important to separate what could be a perfectly valid critique of the president for, say, meeting with a corrupt head of state, from the grounds upon which such criticism is made. The problem here is that Bolling uses racial stereotypes to make his point, suggesting that the alleged failings of the president are not due to his priorities, strategies, judgment or his very position as president of a globally hegemonic nation, but to the presumed recklessness of his race. This type of framework not only fails to help us understand the president's actions and their possible implications -- which would be one possible goal of responsible journalism -- but it also aims to legitimize racist language as a neutral form of social commentary, which it is certainly not. Historically, the goal of this kind of rhetoric is to stir up racial fears into political action as well as uphold the idea that a society divided hierarchically by race is the normal state of things."

Joe Feagin, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University and author of several books on race, including The White Racial Frame (Routledge 2009), called one of Bolling's comments "very old racist imagery."

"Chugging 40s is, of course, a reference to the old stereotype of lazy blacks drinking that kind of beer, and not working hard. Very old racist imagery," he stated. "And hoodlum/thug are very common parts of the dominant white racist frame that you see applied all the time by commentators to black athletes who do what white athletes do all the time, and do not get called on it. The image of black criminality goes back to late 1600s in the white racist framing of blacks. Notice what kinds of images are not used to critique him. Like a Harvard lawyer, or intellectual egghead."

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