A SLUR? ONLY IF IT'S A COMPLETELY INCOMPREHENSIBLE, COUNTERINTUITIVE SLUR
Oh, crap, do we have another mini-scandal? I understand why Michael Steele would try to work this to his advantage, but really, he doesn't have a strong case:
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele got into a heated exchange Wednesday morning with the cast of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
... Steele got into it with MSNBC's Mike Barnicle who, in discussing health care, asked, "What are you people for?
"You people?" Steele asked. "Who are you people?"
"The Republicans, what are you for?" Barnicle responded.
Laughing, Steele -- the first African American chairman of the RNC -- said, "Mike, I just wanted to you define the pronoun baby, that's all."
"Oh, come on," Barnicle responded.
At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey harrumphs:
Imagine, if you will, that a conservative commentator had used the phrase "you people" with a member of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss their position on health-care reform. Not to get all tu quoque on Mike Barnicle and Morning Joe, but liberals would not have been laughing off Michael Steele's response. There would have been outrageous outrage erupting all over the blogosphere, and likely all over MS-NBC, with multiple replays and Chris Matthews opining yet again on the melanin content of Tea Party events.
Yeah, but that's the point, isn't it? If a right-winger said "you people" to an African-American Democrat, the subtext absolutely could be racial, because a large percentage of African-Americans are Democrats and many Democratic policy positions have more black support than white support.
By contrast, Steele, as an African-American Republican, is an anomaly. Who are the black "you people" Barnicle could have had in mind if what he said was (subconsciously?) racist -- Clarence Thomas? J.C. Watts? Alan Keyes? (Is Keyes even a Republican anymore, or has he moved to some further-right fringe?)
Maybe I'm being insensitive -- maybe, because of the history of this phrase, it's always wrong to use it in addressing a black person, no matter what your intended meaning -- but I can't see any possible way this was said with ill intent or out of ignorance or hate.