Speaking of “Negro” …

Nevada Democratic Senator and Senate Leader Harry Reid apparently stepped in it:

The US Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has apologised for private comments he made about Barack Obama before the 2008 presidential election.

He is quoted in a new book as saying Mr Obama could win since he was a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect”, unless he wanted one.

The Democrat said he now regretted “using such a poor choice of words” and apologised to any Americans offended.

President Obama quickly accepted the apology and said “the book is closed”.
source


Technically, Reid was right. A “Dark Skinned Negro with a Negro Dialect” may well have not done as well in the election. Somebody like, say Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg would have been easily beaten the primaries by Hillary Clinton.

But that’s only because Clinton showed a soft side when she cried that one time, and got past her Hard-Assed Bitch stereotype, which would have never faired well against sweet old Grandpa McCain, soft spoken war hero.

Who, in turn, would have done much worse in the election if he turned out to be some mean-spirited “GET OFF MY LAWN” bastard with an out of control wacko as a running mate.

Oh, wait, he was a mean-spirited “GET OFF MY LAWN” bastard with an out of control wacko as a running mate.

Well, anyway, it is probably good that the Democrats put a well mannered articulate Negro up for office instead of some Snoop Dogg character or maybe a Step and Fetch It kinda guy or a Jim Crow dancing singer guy.

The moral of the story: Yes, dear readers, racism is well ingrained in the system. A black person in relatively privileged circumstances is still somebody’s Negro, and that somebody can even be a relatively liberal Democrat. Just because MLK gave some fantastic speech 40 years ago does not mean that the racist environment we maintain in this country stopped mattering. To everyone.

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    January 10, 2010

    To anyone.

  2. #2 Unikraken
    January 10, 2010

    I think you mean MLK.

  3. #3 Phil
    January 10, 2010

    Apparently Reid had been living under a rock since 1965. He’s probably complaining about all those teenagers with their twist records playing with their hula hoops on his lawn.

  4. #4 Phillip IV
    January 10, 2010

    You can take the Mormon out of Utah, but apparently you can’t take the bigot out of the Mormon? Very disappointing, and actually I was already disappointed enough in Reid as it was.

    And on top of it, he only apologized to ‘any Americans’ offended – so obviously he’s okay with the offense blacks on the rest of the planet may have taken.

    Well, anyway, it is probably good that the Democrats put a well mannered articulate Negro up for office instead of (…)a Step and Fetch It kinda guy

    Sad thing is, I have to wonder whether a ‘Step and Fetch It kinda guy’ wouldn’t have gained a larger part of the vote in some Southern states, actually.

  5. #5 Michael Spencer
    January 10, 2010

    OK, Grego, I am having trouble understanding this one, because Reid is right in both respects. Obama is in some ways a half-step forward towards a color blind voter. This is because he is light-skinned. And as to the issue of his ‘accent’, again, let’s not be PC here. There IS a discernible speech pattern assignable to many of our African American brothers, a speech pattern that is off-putting to many white people. Racist, yea, but there ya go.

    I’ll add this: half step or not, I wept when O was elected. I was very active in the movement many years ago, having been spat upon, and beat up, and had piss thrown on me from jeering bystanders as we proudly marched. Back then, the notion of a black man of whatever shade or accent being elected to any office in this country wasn’t even on the radar. We were simply trying to move the ball forward. Hell, all we were after in many cases was simply the right to vote. Or sit on a damn bus. Interesting times.

    And now we find ourselves at a point in history simply not imagined. But we also find ourselves, in a way, so sensitized that we don’t actually feel comfortable speaking about the differences among us, differences that are rich and glorious and deserving of celebration and respect and nurture. I see a sort of homogenization. Is this a small price to pay, or not? Time will tell.

  6. #6 Phillip IV
    January 10, 2010

    Michael Spencer @ 5:

    I am having trouble understanding this one, because Reid is right in both respects

    Likely true, but that’s hardly the point. The point, at least in my opinion, is that the Democratic Majority Leader in Congress refers to African Americans as Negroes in private conversation – something he obviously wouldn’t do in a public speech, thus demonstrating his ingrained racism. (An argument about whether the word is by itself racist is irrelevant at this point – his racism is apparent by the discrepancy between the terms he uses publicly vs. privately.)

  7. #7 Rob Jase
    January 10, 2010

    Unikraken – this discussion is about race not sexual orientation. Leave Harvey MLK out of it.

    But yeah, if my opinion of Reid could get lower this has done it.

  8. #8 aratina cage
    January 10, 2010

    sweet old Grandpa McCain, soft spoken war hero

    *jawdrop* That caused my blood pressure to rise.

    Oh, wait, he was a mean-spirited “GET OFF MY LAWN” bastard with an out of control wacko as a running mate.

    Sweet relief. All better now.

    I remember vividly how the Reich-wing radio pundits tried really hard to make the election about Jeremiah Wright and not candidate Barack Obama with replay after replay of sermon clips.

  9. #9 Frank Cornish
    January 10, 2010

    Listen, consciousness-raising on issues of racism, sexism and homophobia was gaining ground until there was a loud backlash against it from the conservatives who coined the phrase “politically correct” and started to use it as a cry against thought policing. I know people who sincerely think that they are not racist nor sexist who would be unaware that what Reid said about the man who is arguably the most powerful person in the world is wrong and racist.

    One friend of mine said, and I kid you not, “I don’t know why I, as a white male should be blamed for slavery or Jim Crow laws before the Civil Rights Act.” He took it personally when I was explaining to him why the word articulate is not a complement to a black person in the United States. I said, “You may think it is a compliment, but you are still pointing out that the person is a member of what is considered to be a lesser class and that this person is exceeding the bounds of what he or she should be expected to do. I wasn’t blaming you, I was educating you so that you don’t make such a stupid mistake again.”

    Michael Spencer, what I see is a self-justification on the part of racists to not have their ideas examined rather than a suppression of discussion. If you have been reading GLB lately you would know that the discussion needs to be wide fucking open, because the assumptions of race are clinging stubbornly and racism is still acceptable.

    Yeah, Snoop Dogg’s dialogue makes people uncomfortable. His color and his cornrows make people afraid of him because he represents a seething underclass that wants to kill whites for drug money and rape white girls. A guy like Obama, however, with his nice ties and dark suits and light skin and the presence of some caucasian features and neatly trimmed hair and the fact that he can say “Ask” instead of “Axe,” well that’s a guy we can work with and even have our female office staff present when he is in the room.

    Tim Reid, following his success at “WKRP in Cincinnati” produced a short-lived TV show called “Frank’s Place.” His character was a restaurant owner in New Orleans. In a telling episode, he wanted to join a fraternal group of business owners called the “Big C Club,” for Creoles. He was excluded because he couldn’t pass the paper bag test. His skin was darker than a grocery bag, and he was discriminated against by members of his own “race.” Exclusionary inclusiveness is not the province of whites, but our continued insistence on using race as a way to classify people carries through to many different levels. Until our society recognizes that race is a cultural concept and not a biological way to classify people we are going to be faced with even the most subtle attacks on people with justification and “Anti-pc” dismissals of the discussion.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    January 10, 2010

    Michael, the vast majority of white people in america are totally inappropriate for running for president, and often one could label such an individual using half truth stereotypes . It’s a good thing the party didn’t put up a slack jawed hair lipped coal miner, for instance. But we don’t say that. We don’t even notice it.

    But yes, nonetheless, it is true that Obama won because his many qualities as a person, politician, and leader transcend X, Y ans Z where X,Y and Z is whatever you like, and in this case, Reid in a very clumsy way was noticing something that he happen to characterize as a stereotype. And I’m sure Reid does see all this as moving forward. But still…

    I’m sure Reid’s a nice guy and I like much of what he is doing.

    You see, my earlier remarks about what “racist” were quite serious. A racist is not a satanic neo-nazi with horns and a burning cross. Well, yes, that too. But racism is pervasive and powerful and everywhere, affecting every and any (thanks Stephanie) one. All the time. Part of the racist science thing is that racism has been eliminated except in the hate groups meeting out in the woods somewhere, therefore black/white differences you see are genetic.

    What utter bullshit. Here we have a nice bit of proof of the stupidity of that position. And the damange that position does.

    There is a gene for racism in the US. It is the gene that determines kin color, and the phenotype of “racism” is expressed not in the person with the “dark” alleles, but the mind of the person who see’s the “dark.”

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    January 10, 2010

    Aratina cage: I remember vividly how the Reich-wing radio pundits tried really hard to make the election about Jeremiah Wright and not candidate Barack Obama with replay after replay of sermon clips.

    Thats actually a good reference point for this discussion . Harry Reid was saying “Obama was not Wright”

  12. #12 Sailor
    January 10, 2010

    Michael Spencer’s post is good, it brings out the essence of the problem that Greg clearly articulates, which is every day racism.

    Words, including negro, ONLY have potential to be disparaging because of our underlying racism. We can stand on needles trying to be careful how we speak, but it wont make any difference until our entire attitude changes, at which times the words will cease to matter.

    Then we can all enjoy the appreciate such things as the African American dialect, as much as we appreciate other linguisitic variations of English, like the good old southern drawl.

  13. #13 megan
    January 10, 2010

    The fact is it’s true, even if white Democrats want to be blindly race innocent. Stereotypes do abound about who we as a society want or expect in leadership. And Greg appropriately expressed how normal Caucasian stereo types would’ve tanked a white candidate’s campaign. If a deep south or Appilachian white person displayed unintelligible communication and dialect, plus low intellect they’d not be elected either (classism). That someone from the deep south or the Appalachians could be high IQ , highly intelligent with education but not speak perfect the king’s English is a high possibility (Sen. Edwards) but much of life experience and cultural induced stereotypes end up being true so people takes the easy route of assumption and broad brushing. Michael Steele’s selection as GOP head was a reverse poker hand play by the Repugs in th game of playing race to push forth political ideology.

    ie from a black female Dem

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    January 10, 2010

    Megan: Steele’s election as Rep Head was exactly what you say, but it was not acceptable to the actual leader of the party (Rush Limberger), so it has been interesting to see that dynamic play out.

  15. #15 daedalus2u
    January 10, 2010

    I had an interesting idea, that maybe Reid should resign, just so Steele can take credit for it and consolidate his power base in the GOP.

  16. #16 Unikraken
    January 10, 2010

    I would rather have the Republicans continue to fight with each other and dig their own holes deeper.

    They will eventually tear the party completely apart and then we might see something get done around here.

    Who knows, maybe the fiscal conservatives can rally afterward and create a party that doesn’t include the mentally unstable and morally destitute.

  17. #17 jdhuey
    January 10, 2010

    “Then we can all enjoy the appreciate such things as the African American dialect, as much as we appreciate other linguisitic variations of English, like the good old southern drawl.”

    Except that having a Southern Drawl lowers your IQ by 20 points.

  18. #18 Neil B
    January 10, 2010

    It looks like Reid was talking about other people’s prejudices, not his own – since his comments were about whether Obama “could win” the election. So Reid was implying, there wouldn’t be as much voter prejudice given Obama being lighter and more ivy-league. That’s more like saying, “I don’t think a Jew/atheist etc. could get elected yet in America” etc. Considering what polls showed, Reid may have been right to think a more distinct black man would have trouble getting elected – and even if wrong, it would be “the voters” that really deserved an apology most. Griping by conservatives over an alleged “double standard” is bunk.

    Compare to Trent Lott: Lott said things would have been better if Strom Thurmond had won the Presidency in 1948:
    “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. … had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” Thurmond ran as a segregationist under the Dixiecrat Party. That means, Lott was supporting anti-civil-rights policies, not just using “inappropriate language.” Note the contextually suspect phrase “all these problems.” He resigned only from being Majority Leader, not Senator per se.

    As for e.g. Robert Byrd being in the KKK, Byrd did not continue to support such attitudes and could say it was “in the past” although I don’t think he would be an appropriate Majority Leader either.

  19. #19 Alex
    January 10, 2010

    Racist, yea, but there ya go.

    I see that the term “casual racism” is still useful.

  20. #20 Michael Spencer
    January 11, 2010

    I take Sailor’s point that the words are only harmful because they take the scab from a racist wound (well, he didn’t say that, but it’s what I thought about when I read his better-sounding post).

    And Greg: “But racism is pervasive and powerful and everywhere, affecting every and any (thanks Stephanie) one.”

    Oh, man, is that ever true. I grew up in a very racist household, a place where the N word was just as common as, say, slippers, and nobody thought about it. Same way with Jews, really. A household full of racist Republicans.

    I don’t really know whence the sense of ‘wrongness’. Partially teenage rebellion, no doubt. Then, moving to Baton Rouge for undergraduate and graduate school, I saw the ‘whites’ signs in doctor offices. Yep. I never knew a Jew or a black person until college, and then whattya know? They are just like usuns! Who knew?

    Not me. I can regale everyone here with the things kids hear in that kind of a home, stories of big lips, stories of greasy hair– anyone getting sick yet? Well, tough shit, because THAT is what millions of us have been exposed to by our own parents. It’s out there, people, behind closed doors.

    Is it even possible to throw off this ugliness? I know that I suffered with it and I also know that I have done much to rid my heart of these pervasive prejudices.

    Is it gone? Honest answer: I just don’t know. I can still be blind-sided by myself.

    I know damn well that I still have racist thoughts–more to the point, racist assumptions, or a worldview still slightly shaded by my mother’s eyes. I know it because I know that escaping that kind of household without them is probably not possible. I’ve worked my entire adult life to shed them, and done some pretty scary things back in the early 70′s in an effort to scrub myself. I know I have them, but I can’t always identify them.

    At the time back in the movement, when I was most active, I didn’t actually realize that it was ME I was interested in freeing as much as it was my black friends. Wait, they were negroes then!

    Am I free of it? Maybe so. I don’t think so entirely, and I am grateful to anyone who stands up and points out where the monster lives, including everyone here. The price of my childhood is lifelong vigilance.

    It’s impossible for me at this point to actually define where this remnant lives in my own heart. It could be that the remnant is the fear.

    And THAT is why I cried when Obama was elected.

  21. #21 llewelly
    January 11, 2010

    A racist is not a satanic neo-nazi with horns and a burning cross.

    I hate you for reminding me that life is complicated.

  22. #22 llewelly
    January 11, 2010

    Except that having a Southern Drawl lowers your IQ by 20 points.

    holy fuck. A kid in my 5th grade math class tested 219 on his IQ test. He had a Southern Drawl. If he hadn’t had that Southern Dral he would have flattened Marilyn Vos Savant. And he could quote multi-page excerpts of Dune, LOTR, some other novels, and rulebooks for various RPGs. And he memorized an entire fucking table of logarithms which he used to do math tricks. I’m telling you, if he hadn’t had that Southern Drawl, he’d RULE THE FUCKING WORLD.

  23. #23 Jdhuey
    January 11, 2010

    I’m telling you, if he hadn’t had that Southern Drawl, he’d RULE THE FUCKING WORLD.

    But if he had one of those upper class English accents, he’d rule the Universe.

  24. #24 becca
    January 11, 2010

    “There IS a discernible speech pattern assignable to many of our African American brothers, a speech pattern that is off-putting to many white people.”
    WTF? Barack talks the exact same way ALL black people at University of Chicago talk. Which is the same way all normal people talk.

    “Snoop Dogg would have been easily beaten the primaries by Hillary Clinton.”
    Unsure.
    “I don’t care if it’s limbless, I don’t care if it’s braindead, as long as it has a penis.”
    Besides, Snoop Dogg used to be cool.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    January 11, 2010

    OK, Snoop Dogg may have done better than I’m saying. But, when Barack was at Law School (we overlapped at Hahvad) he was considered to have a very thick accent owing to his insistence of using the letter “r” where it was supposed to be.