11 January 2010

So, Nevada Senator Harry Reid is reported to have said the following, as quoted in a new book on the 2008 presidential campaign, Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” as he later put it privately.

Reid doesn’t deny he said these things, and Obama has apparently said there is no ongoing problem due to the remarks.  But Harry is getting a lot of heat for what many have termed a racist statement.  Some conservatives even think he should resign.  My take on it is different.

Though awkwardly stated, what Reid says is, essentially, true.  I noticed it in my own way during the election season:  if Obama looked like, say, Yaphet Koto, no way would so many white voters (and maybe other voters) have been in his court.  Darker skin, not to mention a wider nose, stockier body and a less “educated” or Ivy League manner of speaking, would have undoubtedly garnered him less support.  It wouldn’t have mattered how educated, how versed in politics or constitutional law or any other measure of actual suitability to the office of President – if the voting public, the white voting public, had perceived him as “more black” I don’t believe Obama would have been able to overcome the racism of the white voting public.  A lot of that loss of support would have been the result of unconscious racism rather than outright blatant racism (i.e. “I don’t trust blacks!”), but it still would have translated into real losses at the polls.

Unfortunate, depressing, kind of sickening, but I think very true.  Reid might have used words like “light skinned” or “negro dialect” which rub the wrong way, but the essence of his remarks was, I think, accurate.  While we might critique his antiquated Nevadan dialect, I don’t think he deserves criticism for the truth of his comment.


NPR’s Tell Me More had a spot on this issue today which supports my contention that Reid’s comments were essentially true, however ungracious it might have sounded:  Sen. Reid Takes Heat For Descriptions Of Obama, ‘Negro Dialect’