Sarah Palin: Archetypal Whiteness

Sarah Palin, Republican Vice Presidential candidate and Governor of Alaska, represents archetypal whiteness (image from here). Her place on the ticket as been described as an effort to appeal to “women” voters but this characterization misses the very real way that she represents and appeals to white women and men. The “hockey moms” and “Joe six-packs” she relentlessly invokes in her speeches are cultural references to white people.  While there are a few black players in the NHL (e.g., Donald Brashear, Manny Malhotra, Jamal Mayers, George Laraque, Ray Emery, Jarome Iginla, Anson Carter , Kevin Weeks), hockey is an overwhelmingly white sport.  “Hockey moms” is meant to conjure an image of women like Palin herself, white and socially conservative.

Palin also asserts her representation of the group known as “Joe six-pack.” In a radio interview she said:

“It’s time that normal Joe Six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency.”

She’s repeated this reference multiple times, including in the Vice Presidential debate last week.  It’s a reference that’s meant to evoke “Everyman,” as William Safire noted in this 1998 piece (and, it’s not restricted to conservatives or Republicans).    Yet, the expression carries with it a particular – rather than a generic – referent.   The referent is to a white, working-class man, and, more specifically, to a white working-class man with an over-developed appreciation for televised sports and canned domestic beer.  It’s been interesting to watch and listen to Palin do the acts of translation necessary to transform this quintessentially masculine image into one that’s supposedly gender-inclusive of women.  Of course, little in the mainstream press has noted the gender-disconnect here, but has tried to take issue with Palin’s claim to be working-class since she and her husband Todd (the first dude) earned $249,000 last year.  But there’s no analogous clamor of critique of the whiteness of this term and the racial exclusion it implies.

Sarah Palin’s “cringeworthy” performance in a number of interviews, most notably the series of interviews with Katie Couric, suggest another element of her archetypal whiteness:  advancement despite a lack of verbal acuity.   We’ve seen this again and again with white people who don’t have the basic verbal skills you’d expect of a 5th grader, and yet they get promoted to higher and higher levels in government.   The most notable example in recent history is George W. Bush.  Any black man with his verbal ability would be relegated to cleaning office floors or driving a truck.   But not W., he rose to the highest office in the land.   And now, Sarah Palin is following in these well-worn white footsteps of promotion without ability.   In case you missed it, here’s some of what transpired in the interviews with Couric:

Questioned about her boast that being governor of a state that borders the frozen wastes of eastern Russia added to her understanding of foreign policy, she said: “As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska.”

Asked if the US financial crisis was leading the country towards another Great Depression, her reply was: “Not necessarily this, as it’s been proposed, has to pass or we’re going to find ourselves in another Great Depression. But, there has got to be action – bipartisan effort – Congress not pointing fingers at one another but finding the solution to this, taking action…”

It is virtually impossible to imagine a black person – man or woman – with that lack of verbal ability or basic grasp of knowledge who would be considered for the vice presidency.     Black people have long recognized that to get ahead in a white world they have to work twice as hard as white people.  The flip side of this is the kind of half-assed performance we’ve come to expect from white people in high office in this country, people who are so arrogant that they believe that they don’t need preparation, education, and hard work to succeed.  Instead, they seem to cling to the comforting fiction that they are inherently blessed with some sort of “gift” of leadership that obsolves them from the need to read, speak and think in coherent sentences.     The winking, smiling hubris of the unprepared yet supremely confident Palin, combined with the images she conjures of  “hockey moms” and “Joe six-pack” makes her an archetype of whiteness.


  1. Ashley

    I could not have said it better. I thought I was the only one who noticed Palin’s subtle references to white suburbia. Flirtatious, sassy, spunky behavior in a debate, is great if one is looking for a boyfriend, but not if one is looking to be the next vice president. I am surprised that the media is not discussing her poor grammar, and foolish answers. I know that if someone black had been winking, dodging questions, restating canned speeches, and making references to “black” culture, he or she would have been called out by every major news network. Palin thought that she could flirt her way out of the debate. She had no cognitive dissonance, and aimed to capitalize off of her age and classic features. Not impressed. Quite frankly, I’m frightened.

  2. Jessie Author

    Thanks, Ashley ~ good to see you here and thanks for your kind comments. It’s clear, though, as critical as you and I might be of Palin (not to mentioned frightened) her persona is resonating with large swaths of the white citizenry.

  3. Ashley

    Thanks for the warm welcome. I just found out about this site from The Faculty Lounge. I am disturbed by the positive reactions Palin is receiving. Her person is resonating with the part of the white citizenry that prefers someone like them, over someone who is good for the country. That is sad.

  4. Seattle in Texas

    Here’s another one for anybody interested–the headline caught my eye, but towards the end it quotes Palin:

    “”People say that I speak too simply, or don’t have quite the — I don’t have my thesaurus in my back pocket all along through my speeches,” she told donors in Englewood, Col. “Well, I don’t have time for that.”

    On Sunday she told donors she had been asked why she had done so poorly in interviews with CBS News anchor Katie Couric. “You know what I should have said?” she joked. “It’s job security for Tina Fey” — the woman who impersonates her on “Saturday Night Live.”

    Here’s the link:

    I’m convinced McCain did the democratic supporters a huge favor by selecting her as his running mate…oohhhh them “Mavericks” make quite the team….

  5. Great post Jessie and you present a fresh take at her relentless stupidity. A few random thoughts come to mind. First is that with or without her, McCain and co. are appealing (to the extent that they are appealing to anyone) to an exclusively white base. We have seen a number of articles focus on the unabated whiteness of the party and its supporters. Thus, the fact that her peculiar diction and word choice is directed solely at whites is not surprising. She is preaching to the proverbial choir. What i find very mysterious though is that this bizarre “palinspeak” is apparently a new speaking technique that coincides with her appointment as VP Nominee. If you watch even the first minute or so of this footage from her 2006 Alaskan gubernatorial debate, all traces of this folksy idiocy is absent. So it seems to be an affectation. An act orchestrated solely to appeal to the base who apparently are unable to understand full sentences and proper syntax. Her sudden presence on the scene is profoundly unsettling. With her recent character attacks on Obama, her archetypal whiteness is encroaching on very dangerous grounds.

  6. Seattle in Texas

    Mordy–very nicely put, in my humble opinion…(though can’t stand the pre-palinspeak at all either and of course her political stance on any of the issues)

  7. Seattle in Texas

    sorry~had to come back with more on Palin to accent everything mentioned above–on Obama’s most appropriate response with all things considered:

    “Then he poked fun at Palin’s folksy way of speaking by saying: “We’re not going to let John McCain distract us. We’re not going to let him hoodwink ya, and bamboozle ya, we’re not going to let him run the okie doke on ya.”


  8. Jessie Author

    Hi LisaHussein, Seattle, Mordy, Crimson Wife ~ thanks for dropping your comments here. (Lisa ~ of course, please send the post far and wide if you like.)

    Crimson Wife ~ I’m not sure how to respond to your charge that my post about Palin is “utterly classist.” I am from a working-class background (neither my mother, my grandmother, nor my great-grandmother ever finished education beyond the 8th grade) and yet, I managed to finish high school, work my way through a B.A., M.A., and PhD. I make way less than the Palin-household income of $249,000/year. So, I don’t know how my being appalled at her utter lack of preparation for the second highest office in the land is “utterly classist.”

  9. Seattle in Texas

    Crimson Wife–please bring forth the remarks, direct quotes if you like. Palin makes me want to vomit and thankfully I am not alone with democratic, republican, and independent friends…. Mordy said correctly, Palin appeals to a certain audience and obviously you are one of them. Be happy now. 😉

  10. Crimson Wife, i think you have your “-ists” confused. To be fair, Sarah Palin was subject to some unreasonable and unacceptable sexist media coverage at the outset. But once her mind-warping intellect began to reveal her for what she was(n’t), the coverage began to center around what mattered most.


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