"Boy" Is An Insult In The South
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Apparently, some people are asserting that calling someone "boy" (as Rep. Davis from Kentucky controversially did to Obama) is just friendly, buddy-buddy stuff in the South. I see no reason to concede that point. Now, I'm from Texas, which is not the Deep South, but we have our fair share of inbred rednecks spouting Southernisms (I'm like 40% redneck myself, and prone to saying things like "fixing to" and "all y'all"), and I have never heard any redneck ever call someone a "boy" without meaning it to demean that person. Every single time. Even when you call a bona fide boy "boy", it's about asserting your superiority over him. Even if it's used in a genial manner, it's still an insult. Like you see someone taking a piss outside and you're like, "Boy, what are you doing?"
There's the watered-down version, as well, which is "young man" or "young woman". It's still asserting authority over the person addressed as such, but unlike "boy" or "girl", it implies that the person addressed has some cognitive faculties, though minor and in need of correction. Like a kid who stayed out past curfew might get addressed as "young man/lady" while receiving a dressing down.
Then again, I'm far from Kentucky, so I asked a friend from a bordering state, and he said it's used in exactly the same manner in Kentucky as it is in Texas. Pam maybe could ring in and let us know how East Coast Southerners use the term, though I suspect it's in the exact same way. Which means quibbling over whether or not it's racist is ridiculous. Of course it is.