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B6 and the Tradition




By now, most media followers have heard about how the house was set afire, that is, the House Oversight Committee. Convened to discuss a matter pertaining to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the committee was thrown off track, not surprisingly, by the lunacy of Marjorie Taylor Green, who wanted an answer to the irrelevant question of which Democrats employ Loren Merchan, a political operative who happens to be the daughter of the judge, Juan Merchan, in the Donald Trump hush money trial. That was low level, not surprising for Greene. A fellow committee member, Jasmine Crockett, tried to get her to up her game. She wanted to check if Greene knew the purpose of the meeting. Greene pretty much responded, “Do you?” and added her opinion that Barrett’s fake eyelashes were messing up what she was reading.

 

Yes, she did. That’s when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez objected and demanded a retraction and an apology. When Greene then taunted her, Ocasio-Cortez issued her resounding, “Baby girl, don’t even play.” After more insults to Ocasio-Cortez and Greene’s assertions of her refusal to apologize, Chairman James Comer struggled to bring the proceedings to order. Crockett was laying in the cut. She asked Comer, “I’m just curious, just to better understand your ruling. If someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody’s bleach-blond, bad-built, butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?”

 

Now that was a helluva bit of signification, or signifyin, or siggin, the thing that most interests me here. One of the Black Modes of Discourse, as explained to us decades ago by linguist Geneva Smitherman in her classic Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America, signification “refers to the art of talking negatively about someone through stunning and clever put downs.” Signification is akin to joanin, soundin, and cappin, but the difference, Smitherman explained, “is that signification tends to be more subtle and circumlocutory than the other verbal activities.” In other words, can you get it said without saying it? Folklorist Roger Abrahams had noted that signification or signifyin(g) often involves an indirect argument.  

 

So Congresswoman Crockett performed in the tradition. She didn’t score many points for subtlety, but she was stunning. She was clever and indirect, or circumlocutory. She didn’t refer explicitly to Greene, made no literal comment about Greene’s appearance, as Greene had made about hers. She got it said without saying it. A reporter on a newscast remarked, “She didn’t mention her by name.” Of course, that was the point.     

 

Now I’m not sure the proposed Crockett Clapback Collection featuring the B6 tee shirt is the best next step. But there is a Black display tradition. We’ll see.


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