Monday, January 11, 2010

Reid, his lips

On no account did I ever expect to be defending Harry Reid. But the reaction to his reported comments (in private) about Obama — you know, "light-skinned" and "no Negro dialect" — is insane. And it's mostly Republicans who are having a phony attack of the vapors for political advantage.

Of course I understand that "Negro" has been out of date since the 1960s, replaced by "black" or "African American," the latter of which is silly: we don't speak of "English Americans," "Scots-Irish Americans," or "German Americans," and almost never these days of "Italian Americans," etc. But "Negro" is not a term of disparagement. It was long used by white liberals, including those who were active in the civil rights movement.


"Light-skinned"? Well, that is a fact, is it not? A political fact, and Harry Reid is a politician. Politicians make calculations all the time based on their own and other politicians' racial and ethnic characteristics. It is quite possible that Reid was implying that a light-skinned half-black man had an
epidermis asset, one that darker blacks lacked. If that advantage is a fact, it's indeed unfair. But speaking of it is realpolitik, not a sign of racial prejudice.

"No Negro dialect"? Please. Everyone knows that liberals and the media (okay, redundant) swooned over Barack Obama because he is a "black" man who speaks without the typical dialect. Would Obama have risen to his present height (or sunk to his present depth) if he spoke Ebonics? No. By the same token, Republicans would be loath to nominate as a presidential candidate a white man from Mississippi with a strong regional accent — not the same as a dialect, but close enough in principle.


Every time we have a contrived incident like this, someone like Mary C. Curtis calls for a racial dialogue.
Just a few days away from the holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is it too much to ask that we honor his memory by finally having that honest conversation on race and privilege that we threaten to do each time there's a blow-up?
That comes at the end of a long article in which Ms. Curtis cites Archie Bunker in a 1970s TV show as proof that whites judge blacks by their degree of blackness; claims that "when Middle America's favorite football hero, pitchman and bad actor O.J. Simpson became public enemy No. 1, Time magazine's cover wasted no time in darkening him up" (citation from a credible source, if you wouldn't mind?); goes into a riff about James Madison's slave quarters; claims that "I missed out on a part in the fourth-grade play because my light-skinned, long-haired friend 'looked like a princess,' according to my nun nemesis"; claims that "in the 2008 election, more than a few white folks – breathing a sigh of relief – told me they believed Barack Obama wasn't really black because he had a white parent, ignoring that few people white or black in America are pure anything" (race is only a social construct, except when someone wants an affirmative action job or reparations); and adds that "In [other whites], you could see the familiar mind game in which people with a stereotype of a certain group declare a person who doesn't fit it as somehow different or exceptional because that's so much easier than changing that stereotypical view."


Something tells what me Ms. Curtis means by an "honest conversation" is: We scold, you cringe and pay up. You are all slavemasters, we are all victims. Any other kind of honest conversation is racism.

What was that about stereotyping?



eh said...

It's all rather tiresome.

yih said...

I too thought the same thing, the more I hear ''Reid needs to step down'' on talk radio the more I say 'OH Puhleeze!' and start punching buttons. Lately it's gotten so bad that I often wind up on the sports station.
Just as trivial but more interesting to listen to.