Whipsaw It Good
Dave Weigel is now in the employ of Slate, owned by the Washington Post, following his abruptly abbreviated tenure at — well, at the Washington Post, but let’s not get into that.
Instead, let’s take up his Wednesday column subheaded “African-American conservatives explain that the only racists are those who worry about race-based prejudice.” And let’s ignore the substance of the column, in order to focus on the complaint of commenter “Sissy Willis,” who calls Weigel out for using “code” language:
“Chorus line of black conservatives” = minstrel show
“tan suit/black shirt” = not authentically black/supporter of fascism
“reverse racism grievance industry” = anti-racism, anti-reverse-racism, all black people are alike
“whipsawed by conservative media” = punished by the overseer, e.g. Simon Legree
“bumper crop of black conservative stars” = sharecroppers
“professional black conservative” = paid puppet or Uncle Tom
And while we’re ignoring things — because hey, life is short — let’s dwell on Alleged Codeword #4: “whipsawed”.
Quite honestly — and we do pay attention — that’s a new one to us.
We don’t have our beloved American Heritage handy, but Merriam-Webster dates the verb to 1842:
to beset or victimize in two opposite ways at once, by a two-phase operation, or by the collusive action of two opponents (“wage earners were whipsawed by inflation and high taxes”)
Okay, that’s pretty much our understanding. You have an object that morphs into a colorful verb. Language is fun!
But Simon Legree?
We’re quite capable of missing something, but a Google search of “whipsaw legree” shoots a major blank. Which, while extremely unusual for a Google search, is not definitive.
So: Help us out. Is “whipsaw” coded racism? With documented historical or contemporary examples? Inquiring philosophical linguists want to know.