In a private conversation reported in a new book, Reid described Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
I have to be honest that I am always a bit skeptical when white folks feel compelled to step up and defend black folks from other white folks. I am even more cynical when it is white Republicans doing the defending. This would be the same Republican party who has since the 60’s run on the southern strategy, whose conventions look more like all-white country clubs, and who have from his election sought to de-legitimize this President. Now we are to believe that they are so concerned with the delicate psyche of African-Americans that Senator Reid’s remarks rises to the level of Trent Lott? For those who don’t remember Trent Lott was the Republican majority leader who stated that the country would have been better off if unrepentant segregationist Strom Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948.
For the sake of argument let’s look at Senator Reid’s reported statement concerning then Senator Obama. He stated that he was a light-skinned black man which as far as I can tell would be a true statement. My guess is that Senator Reid was alluding to the fact that historically lighter skinned blacks have fared better in American society than darker skinned blacks so that would be a positive in his bid to become president. On the surface this would appear to be a callous statement however if we look at not only the history of blacks within the majority society but also within the black community the statement tends to stand on its own merits. Now does this excuse the fact that darker-skinned blacks tend to be discriminated more than light-skinned blacks? Of course not, but the truth is still the truth. Let’s face it folks whites tend to be more comfortable with light-skinned blacks. If you were to poll blacks and say does the fact that President Obama is light-skinned does that diminish his status as an African-American I think the answer would be a resounding no based on the fact that he received almost 100% of the black vote.
The second part of Senator Reid’s remarks could be more problematic in the sense that he stated that Obama had no Negro dialect which could be offensive to some blacks. The question then becomes do blacks as a group speak differently from whites and can those differences be readily apparent to the listener? I think Senator Reid was stating that Barack Obama could choose to speak black or white depending on his audience. The problem here is that we are talking about politicians who often craft their message depending on their audience and for a politician to be able to speak to multiple groups is an asset. I think I remember during the campaign how Hillary and Bill changed dialects when they were speaking in black churches or to primarily black audiences. Does that make them racists? I think not, it makes them politicians. As every successful black man knows who is not in the entertainment business or a professional athlete knows we live in two different worlds we have to adept in the white world as well as the black world. I have to be able to speak to white businessmen as well as black community folks and they are not the same.
The biggest problem I have with this faux Republican outrage is that in order to determine Reid’s remarks one has to look at his intent. Was his intent to racially disparage Barack Obama? No, in fact in his mind he was giving a list of the positives for then candidate Obama. We must remember this was the beginning of a historical campaign and who amongst us did not consider these if not other positives and negatives of the candidates. The problem for Senator Reid is that his remarks were recorded. To me this just demonstrates the problem with the current Republican strategy and that is it shows their total lack of principles. When you attack everything you find yourself defending some former positions that you once opposed, by doing this you appear hypocritical at best and insane at worse. Republicans defending Medicare? So what we have is Senator Reid stating that Barack Obama was a light-skinned black man who could speak to both black and white audiences. Yeah, that’s grounds for his immediate dismissal. Speaking as a black man I’m still missing the outrage no matter who had made the statement.
For Michael Steele to go on television and equate what Senator Reid reportedly said to what Trent Lott said is beyond me. Are we to believe that saying the country would be better off today if in 1948 an avowed racist had won the Presidential election is comparable to saying that Barack Obama was more electable because he was light-skinned and he spoke to both blacks and whites? I don’t think so. Have we become so racially sensitive that stating the obvious is now considered racist? The reason Mr. Steele will never be able to accomplish what he was elected to do which I think was to reach out to African-American voters is because in order to defend his task masters he losses any credibility with the very voters he is charged with attracting. Mr. Steele’s remarks may appeal to whites but if that is his core audience then the Republicans would have better served if they had elected another white man who would not have brought the baggage Mr. Steele has obviously brought. Do Republicans believe that blacks are that gullible? I hope not for their sakes.
"Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped." - Elbert Hubbard
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