Harry Reid: racism or stupidity? It’s stupidity

Having grown up in Alabama under Jim Crow, I’ve got some experience distinguishing among genuine racism, racial insensitivity and comments/behavior that are merely stupid. There’s not always a fine line separating the categories, but my ability to navigate my world has long depended on distinguishing a malevolent racist from an insensitive boob.

I’ve never believed that a white person’s use of the “n” word is de facto proof of his racism. (It is, rather, de facto proof of boorishness.) And I’ve met my share of white good ‘ol boys who drove pickup trucks with rebel flag decals but who were, nevertheless, unfailingly polite and helpful to me. They are not racists. I’ve also met well-educated Northern whites who were quite polite to me but whose behavior betrayed their belief that blacks were somewhat inferior. They are racists.

Harry Reid, with his truly stupid comments about the president, falls into the insensitive boob category. Trent Lott may as well. But the remarks that Lott made were much more damaging — as anyone willing to be sincere about race relations would admit.

(Blogs, admittedly, are not the best format for discussing race relations. The ability of commenters to post anonymously tends to bring out the most sophomoric and moronic behavior. Nevertheless, I sally forth, hoping that a few of my readers, white, black and brown, want to think about race deeply.)

Reid, as you no doubt know, said Obama would probably be elected because he’s “light-skinned” and has no “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Reid’s first observation is one that he shouldn’t have uttered out loud but is nonetheless inarguable. But his second about the “Negro dialect” is infuriating. What the heck is that? Was Obama the first black person Reid has ever been around who is middle-class, well-educated and speaks standard English well?

Needless to say, Reid has apologized profusely, as he should have.

Reid has moved quickly to show contrition after a new book, “Game Change” by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin revealed that he made comments in 2008 suggesting that Barack Obama could be elected president because he is “light skinned” and lacks “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Embarrassed by the remarks and already facing a tough climb to reelection in the fall, Reid has reached out to the African American community, apologizing for his comments and highlighting his legislative record of backing civil rights issues important to the black community. He immediately won a showing of support from prominent Democratic black leaders, including the president, who accepted his apology and said he’s seen the “passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I’m concerned, the book is closed.”

Republicans, however, don’t want the book closed. Looking for any opportunity to damage Democrats, they are comparing Reid’s remarks to those Lott made several years ago which led to his resignation as Senate Majority Leader. (Really, the GOP shouldn’t get into this. They are in no position to suggest any other person or group is guilty of racial insensitivity.)

At a public celebration of Strom Thurmond’s birthday, Lott said:

“When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”

That sent a shiver down my spine. Thurmond ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat determined that black people would never enjoy full citizenship in these United States. He was a full-throated segregationist who wanted black people denied the right to vote, to be educated in good schools, to eat at decent restaurants or to stay in the Holiday Inn. He wanted to preserve a system were black people didn’t serve on juries and were lynched over trumped-up charges. He wanted to preserve a system where men like him could take advantage of a teen-aged black maid and impregnate her — as Thurmond did. He wanted to keep a system wherein black teachers were paid less than their white counterparts.

Anybody who bothers to think can see the difference between the remarks made by Lott and those made by Reid.

One more thing: Lott apologized almost immediately, and had I been serving in the Senate with him, I probably would have accepted his apology. I would have considered him a creature of his time and place — a privileged white guy with little understanding of what it meant to be black in the Deep South during Thurmond’s heyday.

But Lott was run off by Republicans, who pressured him to resign. Enough with the hypocrisy, already.

313 comments Add your comment

Peadawg

January 11th, 2010
7:59 am

“’ve never believed that a white person’s use of the “n” word is de facto proof of his racism. (It is, rather, de facto proof of boorishness.)”

Yet, it’s ok for blacks to call each other n’s. Hypocrite.

Jimmy62

January 11th, 2010
8:11 am

Lott complimented a Senator, and any racism was certainly not explicit, seeing as he didn’t even mention race- You merely assumed, because there was an R by his name, that it was racist. But it was no more racist than Democrats reelecting a former KKK member like Byrd over and over again.

Reid made a comment that explicitly referred to a specific race, and in a derogatory manner. You are a supremem hypocrite, Cynthia, willing to let racists lead you, as long as they have a D by their name. You should be ashamed of yourself. And your Democratic leadership. And black leaders who will let Reid get away with this.

I am right wing, and I am not racist, nor have I ever disparaged anyone because of their race. But I see white Democrats do it and get away with it all the time. Sickening, yet the racists will keep getting black votes because influential folks like Cynthia are too partisan to do the right thing.

Aliquando

January 11th, 2010
8:15 am

Apparently, Republicans are de facto racists according to Ms Tucker.

Jen

January 11th, 2010
8:18 am

Jimmy62 – no, it had nothing to do with Lott having an R and she said she throught he probably wasn’t racist so much as racially insensitive. I mean to suggest the world wouldhave been better off had Strom Thurmond been elected? That’s racially insensitive. Likely Lott was thinking family values, etc, and had forgotton who Strom was when he ran for president and perhaps not who he was at the time of Lott’s speech. Insensitive.

Jimmy62

January 11th, 2010
8:23 am

Jen- Reid made an explicitly racist comment, and if you somehow think what Lott said was worse, then there’s nothing more to talk about, because you are blinded by your partisanship.

MEINPVB

January 11th, 2010
8:27 am

One also forgets that Trent Lott made the comments during Strom’s 100th birthday. Were they stupid remarks? Of course! But congratulating someone on their birthday and saying a little something is totally different from refering to Obama as having no “negro dialect”! Personally I think the comments should first have been credited to John McCain and after the drive by media and the Democrats had jumped up and down screaming racism should it have come out that it was one of their own. Not that watching the democrats try to explain the difference between the two comments is sooo different isn’t fun but my way could have truly shown the voters how hypocrital the democrat party truly is. And by the way I wrote a similiar note to the editoral page signed with my name and guess what? It wasn’t printed!

jt

January 11th, 2010
8:29 am

Divide and conquer is what our federal government does best. The MSM is their best tool.

Jimmy62

January 11th, 2010
8:29 am

MEINPVB- You’re right, would have been funny to see them condemn McCain, but then excuse it when it was revealed it was really Reid who made the comment.

If Lott’s comment was racially insensitive, then reelecting Byrd and giving him an honored place on the party was explicitly racist. Democrats are hypocrites when it comes to race, just look at how many black people Clinton and Obama have in their inner circle and at the top of their staff!

Jen

January 11th, 2010
8:29 am

cynthia is saying they’re both racially insensitive – Reid and Lott. And she also said that being racially insensitive doesn’t equate to racist, ie, Rebel Flag.

Eric

January 11th, 2010
8:31 am

Reid’s comments may have been politically incorrect, but think about it. What he said was true. If President Obama wore his pants half way down his bottom and spoke like a rapper, he would never have been elected. That, my friends is a fact. This is a non-story.

J.C.

January 11th, 2010
8:32 am

This is the first time I read an article or blog by you. I don’t think you are a hypocrite. I have felt that way as well about white people. Sometimes they don’t know and sometimes they are just stupid.

I do remember when Trent Lott said what he said as well as his avid apologies. I also think a lot of people are upset about Mr. Reid’s words because there is small grain of truth. Ugly truth but truth all the same. Which is that United States wants to say we are free of our prejudice past but we are not. Republicans will scream fowl because that is what republicans and their talking heads do. It really didn’t matter what Mr. Reid said or if the President was Black or Not. He is not their candidate. They will find fault with every action he does or doesn’t due for the next three years.

In the past it was a statistical fact that an African-American with a lighter complexion achieved more, was financially stable and over all had more success. That is an ugly truth Black Americans need to deal with. There is a whole lot of bias within our community. Regardless there have been exceptions to that rule. We all know this as well.

Peadawg

January 11th, 2010
8:34 am

“racially insensitive doesn’t equate to racist, ie, Rebel Flag.”

So the Rebel Flag is recially insensitive? LOL!!!!!!!!!! That’s a good one.

mc

January 11th, 2010
8:34 am

Of course you’d say it’s stupid, not racist…he’s a democrat but Lott is oh soo dangerous. Can you even pretend to be objective? If not, quit writing.

Hairy Banana Reid

January 11th, 2010
8:42 am

“The ability of commenters to post anonymously tends to bring out the most sophomoric and moronic behavior”

Your sophomoric and moronic blogs only warrant sophomoric and moronic responses.

Stupid is, as Stupid does.

Jen

January 11th, 2010
8:43 am

Of course the Rebel Flag is racially insensitive. As a southerner I find it extraordinary if you claim otherwise. The Rebel Flag was not the official flag of the Confederacy. It was the battle flag. It was carried into battle during the Civil War. How is that not racially charged?

Scott

January 11th, 2010
8:43 am

Lott never included color or anything racially motivated in his words. He was giving a farewell speech for a fellow Senator. Yes, his comments were regrettable and more scrutiny during the speechwriting could have been applied. Yes, the Republicans weeded him out. However, it is ludicrous for you to say that “the GOP shouldn’t get into this. They are in no position to suggest any other person or group is guilty of racial insensitivity.” If this was a Republican that made these words, what would you say right now? What would the Dem party say right now? They would have rolled out Jackson and Sharpton in a heartbeat. (BTW, Still waiting for Sharpton and the media to apologize to the Duke lacrosse team for their role in tearing apart those young kids’ lives.) Look what happened when Joe Wilson yelled out “You Lie,” during a Presidential Address in Congress. Yes, it was not an appropriate venue to yell that out(and neither is talking on the Senate floor drunk as a skunk), but the Dem party and the liberal media wasn’t just going after him for the lack of decorum, but they were also tearing apart using racism as a basis. If this had been Rush Limbaugh, what would the Dems in Congress have been saying? And he isn’t even a politician!!!

Why the hypocrisy? Where is the outrage? Reid SHOULD be removed from his position and it sad that the only reason he isn’t is because the Dem party perceives him as the only person who can cram this stupid healthcare bill through. The same bill that Wilson was correct in his assessment.

Barry

January 11th, 2010
8:44 am

Hang on a minute: Cynthia writes, “Lott was run off by Republicans, who pressured him to resign. Enough with the hypocrisy, already.” Lott’s resignation was demanded from both Republicans and Democrats; this time when someone in the Senate has made a racist comment, the Republicans are again calling for his resignation – but the Democrats are defending Reid because he’s one of their own. Yet Cynthia accuses the Republicans of hypocrisy? I think my irony meter just broke. Of course, we should remember the previous Democratic senator who called Obama “clean” and “articulate,” and not only avoided being asked to resign but was made vice president. The hypocrisy here is that liberals are willing to allow their fellow travelers to be just as insensitive or racist as they want to be, just so long as they agree with them the rest of the time politically.

On second thought, maybe this isn’t racism. Maybe it’s just a political case of battered-spouse syndrome.

Call it like it is.

January 11th, 2010
8:44 am

“Obama would probably be elected because he’s “light-skinned” and has no “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Ugg, so what. The above statement is true and I don’t see anything wrong with it. Cindy sometimes the truth is just that the truth. Just because you get insulted every night and day over every little thing whites might say, doesnt make him or her a racist.

Look at Oprah, very well spoken, successful, but time after time when she gets in a casual setting, her dialect starts to revert more back to a country “negro” dialect. Do I think any different of her? No. It is what it is. I would dare say that when you go back to Alabama for any length of time, you more then likely revert back to their dialect or Alabama twang.

Is Obama light skinned? Yes. Can he change his dialect depending on the occasion? Yes. Does any of the above matter? No.

You know it just doesnt matter any more, no matter how much time passes, how many laws change, nothing changes with the Black community.

If you don’t agree with it, that mean its racisms. If you dont get a job, it because your black, if that person didnt get elected, its because their black and on and on and on. Heck even Avatar is now consider racist by you and your kind, because a white man help to save the aliens.

It will never end, because it just to easy for you to blame an entire race for any failings you might have.

Hairy Banana Reid

January 11th, 2010
8:45 am

You need some lessons in history Jen.

Jen

January 11th, 2010
8:45 am

“Your sophomoric and moronic blogs only warrant sophomoric and moronic responses.”

Seriously? Classic case of “I know you are but what am I?”

It shouldn’t matter if you think her blog is moronic. You should still respond with intelligence and dignity. Otherwise you’re avoiding a real discussion. If you don’t want to have a real discussion…you can always not say anything.

So, what’s your real motivation?

Jimmy62

January 11th, 2010
8:46 am

Notice hoe we evil Republicans are not commenting on Bill Clinton’s remark about Obama would have been getting them coffee a few years previous? That’s because that wasn’t a racist comment, rather an interesting observation on the change in race relations in the U.S. Reid’s comment, however, was simply disparaging and explicitly racist. But since I see the Democrats on here are willing to overlook anything if the perpatrator is a Democrat, there’s not much reason for me to comment anymore.

Where are Sharpton and Jackson? Counting the money they get from Democrats and uninterested in making a deal out of this. Not as lucrative as when they can get on a Republican. Still, it’s interesting how Lott didn’t even mention race, and even Republicans got on his case. Why? Because believe it or not, most Republicans are not actually racist, and unlike Democrats, they will go after their own if a Republican makes a racist comment. Republicans don’t look at the color of your skin, they look at the content of your character. Democrats just look at your skin and your income level and figure out how they can use you to get reelected.

Jen

January 11th, 2010
8:48 am

HBR – why don’t you tell me what you think you know if you think I am wrong. The Rebel Flag was a Civil War Battle Flag, championed by General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Unless you’re claiming the Civil War WASN’T about slavery but rather it was about states rights. Yeah, states rights to own people.

david wayne osedach

January 11th, 2010
8:48 am

Well written. Even President Obama has gotten over it. Forget what Reid said and move on.

Hairy Banana Reid

January 11th, 2010
8:51 am

Jen, imagine me saying this in a most southern inbred voice – “Get you some book learnin, honey”.

Jimmy62

January 11th, 2010
8:53 am

Yeah, it was about slavery, but it was about other things, too. And it shows a vast ignorance of history to deny that.

Rev Al Sharptongue

January 11th, 2010
8:54 am

If you don’t agree with it, that mean its racisms. If you dont get a job, it because your black, if that person didnt get elected, its because their black and on and on and on. Heck even Avatar is now consider racist by you and your kind, because a white man help to save the aliens.

Buddy no need for the low self esteem rant you have. Just be honest and look at history, when people have been discriminated against it has lingering effects.

It seems to me that when a white guy blames his failures on liberals,immigrants,affirmative action, andthings beneficial to women he is whining and playing the victim card.
“Oh pity me I used to discriminate against all the people through legal means and now the playing field is almost level and I cant handle it!!!! Let me shoot my family or a school or a liberal church, or my old place of employment, my current place of employment, fast food restaurants, and family gatherings”

Call it like it is.

January 11th, 2010
9:04 am

“Jen” Wow you know the rebel flag was the battle flag, okay so what? And you know one generals name, wow again we are all impressed. This is an old subject and really not worth getting into with you, because it is obvious that you “don’t” have a clue on the history of that flag, the real reasons behind the War for Southern Independence and what it really was fought for.

The rebel flag became racist because it was just the latest thing for the NAACP to attack to justify their existence. You know its amazing that we had a top show the “Dukes of Hazzard” which was in the top five for like 10 years, with the main star being a car with the rebel flag on the hood and you NEVER heard anything about the flag. It wasn’t an issue, until someone made it one.

Whats next Jen, the American flag? I mean I can’t tell you how many old documentaries I have seen on the history channel or in books that show the KKK marching down the road with the American flag. Why not go after that flag. It was that flag that flew over slave ships, it was that flag that led the way to wipe out Indians. Jen there is a book out there called “The South was Right” pick it up, read it, and open your mind.

Jen

January 11th, 2010
9:05 am

Of course it was also about “other things”. But, slavery was the main one (rather stopping the spread of slavery into new territories and thus limiting the control of power of slave states in government). Everything else was thrown on the horse’s back to even further justify succession.

It’s okay. I’m a southerner. I know. It’s uncomfortable to know your cultural history has such an unsavory and inhumane existence. But, it’s better to just man-up and make progress than to deny it.

Jen

January 11th, 2010
9:09 am

Call it like it is – I know that book. Cloak it all in “economic interests” you want. But when your economic interests are tied up in owning people, well, wah.

Jen

January 11th, 2010
9:12 am

OK – I’m out. Gotta go to work now. It may be wishing too much but please play nice.

Joan

January 11th, 2010
9:20 am

I don’t like Reid, but seems to me there was a lot of truth in what he said. Obama is a light colored black. He can put on the dialect when he wants to. Was there a mis-statement there? Remember truth is only censored and censured when the Republicans tell it.

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
9:22 am

Cynthia…..Don’t guess ex-KKK Grand Dragon Robert BYRD is a racist either….BLACKs are saying………Reid is a racist…….but he is out RACIST..

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
9:24 am

REID……..got caught in the politifcal correctness Snare of his own kook party…

zeke

January 11th, 2010
9:25 am

Of course not! He is a democrat! That excuses everything, does it not! You liberals are absolute fools! Double standards are the rule for you nuts!

ADT

January 11th, 2010
9:25 am

MC: Why does Cynthia have to be “objective?” Her whole job is stating her OPINION, which is by its very nature subjective.

Cynthia: I think you’ve got this pretty well figured out. I think more than anything, the Republicans are so desperate now that they jump on everything they see. Aren’t they hypocrites when it comes to affairs, etc.? They tried to run Clinton out of office while now it’s perfectly acceptable to pay off the family of someone you’ve slept with. Interesting how it’s ok for them to call everyone else a hypocrite

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
9:26 am

REID is saying a black who looks like JOHN LEWIS……..& talks like LEWIS (Negro dislect) would never get elected by racist democrats……..

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
9:28 am

THIS IS WHY WE REDNECKS in Georgis don’t take you seriously…….Ms. T.

Kris 10

January 11th, 2010
9:28 am

I just want to know if it’s possible for Ms. Tucker to start a column without “Having grown up in Alabama under Jim Crow…” or something similar.

ADT

January 11th, 2010
9:28 am

No, Reid is saying that an African-American like John Lewis wouldn’t get elected by the independents that voted for Obama.

ADT

January 11th, 2010
9:30 am

David-AJC: And you wonder why no one outside of the South takes Rednecks seriously :)

inou

January 11th, 2010
9:32 am

It’s only racist if it comes out of a non-lib mouth. Besides that, What is the big deal? It’s a fact that whites would probably not have elected a darker skinned person who spoke ghetto. It’s politics. Political correctness has been America’s enemy. Toughen up. Protect Freedom of Speech. Republicans have bigger fish to fry. Corruption is rampant in this administration, and the libs are not about to jeopardize their takeover of our Freedoms and liberties and bodies, and money and. . . etc.

JB

January 11th, 2010
9:34 am

Democrats are the black mans worst enemy, they just don’t know it. Giving a child a cookie to make be quiet doesn’t work. Keeping blacks ( not all, A ton have figured out a education and success ain’t bad) in poor schools and on the dole is what is best for them. It’s all about the vote, not their well being.
I have well educated black friends who have told me this themselves. It’s the biggest con going. Get one to tell you or admit that it was the republicans that voted to pass civil rights. The democrats voted to block it. Al Gore’s daddy lead the way. Wake up folks.

Atlanta_Tiger_Fan

January 11th, 2010
9:36 am

Tucker definitely knows racism when she sees it….she see’s a racist every day when she looks in the mirror! Everything about her and her life is based on skin color. I don’t care what Harry Reid said about obama, it’s true. HOWEVER, had a Republican said the same thing there would be rioting in the streets and Jesse and Al would be picketing and calling for boycotting!

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
9:36 am

The word “racist” is so wrongly used it makes me sick.

Of course Reid is not racist or he would believe members of other races (whatever they are) are genetically inferior to his race. Lincoln was a racist because that’s what he believed as did most white people back then regardless of their view on slavery. Harry Reid is a “knucklehead” but he’s not a racist nor was Trent Lott.

Could we please start using the correct verbage? One can be insensitive, prejudiced and even bigoted (we all are to some extent – including Ms. Tucker with her daily columns) without being a “racist”.

zeke

January 11th, 2010
9:38 am

You fools who think the CIvil War was about slavery need to read and study and learn actual history instead of the crap put out by blacks, democrats and liberals! It was about economic rights and state rights! The South was prohibited from buying the machinery and technology needed to process their own goods! That was done to keep the money in the north and in the hand of the northern industrialists! PERIOD! Lincoln introduced slavery as a cause midway through the war in hopes of a slave revolt to help his northern army that was getting it’s butt handed to it at every turn by an under manned, under equipped Southern force! NOTE HE DID NOT FREE THE SLAVES IN THE NORTH! YES THERE WERE SLAVES IN THE NORTH! You revisionists of true history have tried and tried to rewrite the truth, and, many including blacks and liberals have swallowed it hook line and sinker! THANK GOD THERE ARE SOME WHO ADHERE TO TRUE HISTORY AND NOT THE PC VERSION! I have spoken with many blacks that went north because they were under the impression that things would be better for them there! They returned to the South because, THINGS FOR THEM AND OTHER MINORITIES ARE FAR WORSE IN THE NORTH! GO FIGURE!

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
9:38 am

P.S.

rac⋅ism  

–noun 1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
9:39 am

CAN ALWAYS DEPEND ON CYNTHIA TO DEFEND THE RACIST IN THE DEM party….NEED REID’s vote…

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
9:42 am

Zeke:

You are correct of course but that will fall on deaf ears. If you win, you get to write the history.

For example, a greater percentage of Confederate prisoners died at Camp Chase, Ohio than Union prisoners at Andersonville, Georgia. One commander was hung and the other promoted. Get the picture?

Road Scholar

January 11th, 2010
9:42 am

One obvious history lesson not mentioned above is that the rebel battle flag was used by the Klan as their rallying flag. Is that racist enough for you?

As a kid I was once enamored by the Civil War and the romantic stories written about the south. GWTW anyone? But in today’s world, because of the nimnods out there, most people can’t determine or recognize the diffrence in respecting history and practicing racism. Bless their hearts!

ClemsonNeil

January 11th, 2010
9:43 am

This is why I (a black man) am not a democrat.

Old white Democrats have been calling black people “ni&&as” since Civil Rights and everytime they do and “apologize”, black politicans and leadership fall in right line and say “no big deal”.

Notice that Harry Reid knew what black persons to call personally to make his apology to calm the fire. He went down his list of influential “Negroes” and got them ALL to fall in line and shrugged it off. It’s pathetic.