In case you missed the fireworks last week, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton used a figure of speech that set off alarms on social media and throughout the liberal blogosphere. During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Clinton said, “I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave.”
When I first got wind of the ensuing commotion, I wasn’t sure what the fuss was about. Were liberals offended at Hillary’s insensitivity in using a metaphor that had been directed toward her husband regarding his sexual dalliance? It certainly seemed clear from the context that she was referring to her Republican “mirror,” Donald Trump, over his “boorish attacks on her.”
The problem, it turns out, is that Mrs. Clinton was guilty of an ethnic slur: “Off the reservation” is insulting to American Indians.
How it is an insult depends on which Indian you ask. Ruth Hopkins, who describes herself on Twitter as an “award winning Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer for Indian Country Today,” tweeted out:
When reservations first established, going #OffTheReservation meant you were going to be hunted down and killed.
That sounds pretty gruesome, but other, less bloodthirsty explanations of the phrase’s origins abound. Native News Online writes:
When natives are “on the reservation,” it is implied that we are contained, isolated, and controlled. When we go “off the reservation,” chaos ensues. We have gone rogue, act unpredictably, and are causing trouble.
A semi-scholarly article from NPR dated June 29, 2014 imputes a similar meaning but one that is less judgmental. Citing several primary sources, the NPR writer, Kee Malesky, suggests the phrase means “breaking the law,” though she also includes a citation from the Oxford English Dictionary (“to deviate from what is expected or customary; to behave unexpectedly or independently”) that is free of any negative connotation whatsoever.
Ultimately, the phrase seems to be closer to a legitimate insult than the locution chink in the armor, which had the mainstream media seeing red when it was used in connection with the spotty performance on the court of Chinese-American basketball player Jeremy Lin. But the inexact nature of the insult in the phrase “off the reservation” suggests that maybe it has lost some of its sting over time and that Amerindians and their liberal enablers who still take offense need to lighten up (no pun in re skin color intended). Those on the political left have far too much invested in finding things to become irate over.
If there is an upside to this bit of overwrought silliness, it is in the pound of flesh some liberals are now demanding of candidate Clinton:
— Bernie Journal (@bernie_journal) May 2, 2016
— Andrew S. Potts (@AndrewSPotts) May 1, 2016
— Native #’s (@Native_Hashtags) April 30, 2016