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

JB

January 11th, 2010
9:44 am

I meant to say ” it’s NOT whats best for them….

thetruth

January 11th, 2010
9:45 am

If Steele and RNC have any sense they will call out everyone of the five faced libs who are now making nice with each other over caustic race comments from Sen. Crupt er…I mean Reid. They will save every scrap of film and print with quotes from GOB senators & Rev. Al and others of his ilk that show them playing down Reid’s comments.

In the future, if a conservative makes any stupid comment about race that is even close to the offensive language Reid used and the libs scream for blood (and being two faced hypocrites, they will) Steele and the RNC should trot out all of their files on this sordid episode to call them out again.

At that point they should point out that libs:

1) Don’t really care about race issues and just use this race card as a political lever when it’s
expedient or…
2) They do believe in racial injustice but are two faced bas terds who apply it only to political
opponents.

Radford Bunker

January 11th, 2010
9:46 am

Perhaps Cynthia, you should check your own writing at the time.LOTT’S REMARKS ARE NO SURPRISE TO THOSE WHO KNOW THE SOUTH Atlanta Constitution December 12, 2002.

William

January 11th, 2010
9:46 am

It has nothing to with racists but simply to demonize another person when they disagree. Remember progressive liberals are liars. It is part of their makeup. They have to lie and deceive because the mainstream will not believe them. Reid is a progressive liberal liar and now he has been recognized doing the evil work progressive liberal liars do. Cynthia is just another pea in the progressive liberal liar pod.

AndyW

January 11th, 2010
9:47 am

Cynthia has clearly lost her grip on reality. First the ‘Obama’s tougher on terrorists than Bush’ column and now this drivel.

I can only imagine her reaction of someone like Johnny Isakson had made a similar comment about Michael Steele.

Monday Monday

January 11th, 2010
9:47 am

[...] does Harry Reid deserve the flack he’s receiving over his comments about Obama’s race?  We’ll [...]

Craig

January 11th, 2010
9:47 am

Democrats own the market on racism. Through their language and bills they push they have found a way to keep blacks in social slavery. They have it set in their minds that they need the white democrate to make it in the world or else they won’t. Only the strong minded see through this crap. Tucker is just another example of keeping her own race owned and not holding the white democrat racist, Reid, to the same standards as a white Republican, Lott. What a joke she and the AJC editorial people are at this point.

JerseyGirl

January 11th, 2010
9:48 am

zeke:

Then what was the Civil War about if not slavery? Why, then, didn’t the southern states cede from the United States than give up their slaves? Most of the Northern states had abolished slavery before the Civil War began.

If anyone needs a history lesson, it is you.

Mark "Crimson Crier" Ingram

January 11th, 2010
9:49 am

It’s like Ann Coulter stated in her book “How to Talk To A Liberal (if you must)”The symbol for the Democratic Party shouldn’t be a donkey, it should be two sets of standards”.

sam

January 11th, 2010
9:49 am

both guys made stupid comments that are excusable. difference between reid staying and lott leaving is that one is being supported by his party and the other was run off by his…lott was on the outs before this happened, it was a convenient excuse to get rid him….

MrDan

January 11th, 2010
9:51 am

African Americans have been a subservient constiuency of the Democratic party since the 1960’s. Harry Reid or anyone else in the Democratic party can say anything they want about blacks, and know all they’ll have to do is apologize. (and keep passing legislation that transfers wealth).

Turd Ferguson

January 11th, 2010
9:55 am

“But his second about the “Negro dialect” is infuriating. What the heck is that?”

Dialect?
Most curious Capt.
Mr Spock scan the planet for more this sillyness.
Scotty!
Aye Captain>
Meet me in the transporter room.
Lt Uhura?
Yes Captain?
Open a hailing frequeny and might I say you look lovely today.
Thank you Captain.

Joey

January 11th, 2010
9:56 am

Cynthia;
If Reid has used “Black dialect” or “inner-city dialect” or even “Getto dialect” we could argue carelessness or stupidity. But using “Negro dialect”, to me that makes it undeniable racism.

I remember when we dropped Negro and Colored from use. We transitioned to Afro-American, then to Black, then to African-American. Now you say Negro is acceptable again. I am not ready to go back to the 60s, thank you.

Aksarben

January 11th, 2010
9:56 am

Oh for God’s sake. If Lott is racist and stupid, so is Harry. And Tucker, you are a shill for the Democratic party, which by the way, has treated blacks poorly throughout the years. Go figure why you keep coming back for more abuse.

Racism still exist

January 11th, 2010
9:57 am

Call it like it is – “consider racist by you and your kind”, if that is not racist, then I don’t know what is. Unless you have walked in our shoes you will never understand.

sam

January 11th, 2010
9:57 am

i think by negro dialect he meant aks vs. ask

Turd Ferguson

January 11th, 2010
9:58 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!”

Correct!

JerseyGirl it is YOU who needs the lesson.

Pierce Randall

January 11th, 2010
10:00 am

The last two paragraphs make me a little confused about Cynthia Tucker’s point.

It’s not hard to imagine why he made them–this is a man who went to college before the 70s, who lives in a state (no knock on Nevada) where it’s at least possible for an old white man to live far away from black individuals, who works in an institution full of other old white men who may have similar attitudes, and Barack Obama. But just because it’s easy to imagine why Senator Reid would make these comments does not mean these comments are any less ignorant or, likely, offensive.

They also reflect a large disconnect, demographically, between the US Senate and the country at large: while we should all vote for elected officials we think are most qualified, one might imagine, with the sufficient sample size that is the population of the United States, that, barring any structural barriers to election, half of Senators would be women, about 12 to 14 African American, and about the same number Hispanic. There are a lot of reasons this does not happen, but most of us know we cannot talk to or about others the way Michael talks to Stanley in the Office because we have to get up every morning and immerse ourselves in a diverse culture. Harry Reid’s circumstances require him to do this sufficiently.

Is this like Trent Lott’s praise of Strom Thurmond? No, but not necessarily because Lott’s comments were more or less offensive than Reid’s. Lott said, in 2003, of Strom Thurmond’s 1948 run for President on a segregationist platform: “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.” Whatever that says about Trent Lott’s attitudes towards black Americans, it’s an endorsement of policies far away from the mainstream United States, and from the Republicans Party’s platform. Whether or not Reid should resign from Democratic Party leadership for his statements, they were not a question of public policy, and so were not analogous to calls for Trent Lott to resign.

As a side note, Cynthia Tucker says that blogs are not a good place to talk about race relations. I tend to agree, but it’s interesting to note that blogs sustained the Trent Lott scandal on life support after the media dropped it.

Cynthia

January 11th, 2010
10:00 am

How typically double standard the Democratic response is to the entire Reid affair. Had Reid been a Republican, the cries for his resignation would be loud and strong. Deny it all you want, but Trent and Reid did the same thing in the same way. To excuse one because he is helpful to your political agenda is the ultimate in hypocrisy!

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
10:00 am

CYNTHIA……The Democrat Party is full of segregationists……Robert Byrd….for one….

real fan

January 11th, 2010
10:01 am

The reason Lott resigned was he was the Senate Majority Leader . Regardless of what party he is. This position should always be held to a much higher standard . He failed in respecting the position with his insensetive comments as did Reid . How will we ever get past issues of race if we continue to excuse people that should be showing the best qualitys of this great country. We all as citizens should expect nothing less from our Representatives.

Carter is a Fool

January 11th, 2010
10:02 am

Reed has the D card, so it is not objectionable only stupid. If he had the R card, it would be a major hanging offense. Tucker sees racism everywhere, but ignores it when the D is linked with a politician.

Keep writing this crap and you will hasten the demise and bankruptcy of this paper.

Craig

January 11th, 2010
10:02 am

Jersey Girl, the Civil War had to deal with the South breaking off from the north more then slavery rather you like it or not. Lincoln did undertand the slaves had to be free along with keeping the country as one. By the way, a Rebublican freed the slaves. The Republican’s passed the civil rights laws that Gore’s own father voted against. The bad news, the dems have shackled blacks with their policy’s and veberage since the ’70’s. Go research your history and prove me wrong.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
10:04 am

Road Scholar:

Just curious ………. have you ever wondered how Native Americans feel about the American flag (the last thing some of their forefathers saw before a bullet sent them to the happy hunting ground) or black slaves looking at it as they boarded that yankee slave trader on the West Coast of Africa, or Japanese Americans as they saw it flying outside their internment camp in WWII or ………………

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
10:06 am

Bill Clinton said…”Barack Obama could have been serving me coffee & shining my shoes back in Arkansas…………..& saying…..”.Ya Saar..Boss…..& Na Saaa Bossman–”

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:06 am

Reid has not made a racist comment. A racist comment who imply that the person mentioned, Obama in this case, was inferior because of his race. Cynthia correctly writes that Reid’s first observation ” is nonetheless inarguable.” I fail to understand, however, her being infuiated by the comment about the “Negro dialect.” Her question: “Was Obama the first black person Reid has ever been around who is middle-class, well-educated and speaks standard English well?” makes no sense. All that Reid was expressing is the inarguable fact that had Obama spoken non-standard English, he would have had much more difficulty to be elected.

Craig

January 11th, 2010
10:06 am

Ridgerunner, have you ever wondered how the Jews felt before going into the oven or gas chamber? They got over it and have moved on through education and a strong will. they were not brain washed by a politcal party to depend on them to better theirselves.

Carter is a Fool

January 11th, 2010
10:07 am

We have very few African-Americans here in this country, but we have many blacks. An African-American is a first generation immigrant from Africa (regardless of skin color). Hyphens only divide our country not unite it. Just like Kwabanga the made up holiday that the radicals celebrate since they want their own holiday instead of Christmas or Hanakah.

So glad to see no stores put up Kwabanga cards, decorations and the media seemed to ignore it this year. May this made up holiday conceived by a radical Marxist disappear from memory.

john

January 11th, 2010
10:07 am

“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.”

FYI. I am a northerner and would like you to retract that statement, we are not racist, nor do we time to discuss or care about things like this, we have moved on from black/white talk back 1870 and again in the 1960. FYI, we voted a black man our president, wtf else do you need to show you that we do not care about skin color!!!

If you want the reality of your statement, we view White and Blacks in the south as both inferior on the same level, no because of skin color, but because of the lack of growing up, down here people talk about the civil war as if it were yesterday. I always have some guy who’s great-grandady fought in the war tell me that “i know you guys won” then proceed to show me some war bonds or something from the war.

DHD

January 11th, 2010
10:08 am

Instead of asking Reid to step down, the Dems always go back in history like a child and say…they did it too, they did it too….and what they did was worse…blah, blah. It is obvious that there is a double standard here. Republicans asked Lott to step down. He made a stupid comment trying to make an old man, who was about to die, feel good. Reid had his comments published in a book, then apologized. Bottom line is Cynthia Tucker is blind.

Aye Aye Sir

January 11th, 2010
10:08 am

Democrats are always about “don’t do as I do, do as I say”.

A perfect example? The Obama kids in private school in Washington, D.C.

squirrelly

January 11th, 2010
10:09 am

Maybe Harry Reid isn’t racist, but Cynthia Tucker sure is.

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:09 am

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector: Byrd was a segregationist decades ago. He is not a segregationist now. Vital difference, which you do not seem to be able to understand.

Jess

January 11th, 2010
10:09 am

You are wrong that Lott was run off only by republicans. I just saw a list of 18 democrat house and senate members who called for his resignation. Among the group was Obama and Hillary Clinton. Lott was trying to say something nice about a 100 year old senator who 60 years ago ran for president. For Lott to say he voted for him means he is a racist is absurd. This would assume that Thurmond’s stand on blacks was his only agenda as president.

And come on. Who in 2008 uses the word Negro? Lott never even made a reference to race. Reid not only uses the word negro, but also refers to skin color and dialect.

Sick of the Foolishness

January 11th, 2010
10:09 am

Cynthia Tucker -

I am an African American and you do not represent me or my views. And you will find that the number of people you do represent diminishes every time you write foolishness such as this. You and the liberal democrats have turned this into the most confusing argument ever. Why is what Reid said not racist?

Please stop pretending to know what you are talking about. You don’t and this is the most idiotic thing I have read.

You, Sharpton, Obama and the rest of your ilk should stop even pretending to care about the African American community outside of your own middle-class existence. Obama comes from Chicago and has never done anything about the plight of African Americans there, so I really don’t expect him to do anything more. Wait a minute, maybe we can have a beer summit!!

You all are becoming cartoon characters.

Carter is a Fool

January 11th, 2010
10:10 am

Ridgerunner,
The Native Americans and Japanese Americans got over it just like the Jews. They did not forget it, but it did not define them like some Victims and Race Pimps who are slaves to the past. These folks view the world as trying to keep them down and out instead of seeing the opportunities they have in our country. Shame on these charlatans who preach these lies.

The Dogfighter Returns

January 11th, 2010
10:14 am

Wasted energy on typical american nonsense. :) :)

Move on and deal with the real issues.

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
10:14 am

TO THE LIBERALS…any reference by a conservative….to a black person is racism…RUSH LIMBAUGH has been stung ……by the claims of racism……when the LEFT did not agree with him…Only liberals are allowed to classify a RACIST comment….

Boneyard Randy

January 11th, 2010
10:15 am

Insensitive remarks are just that…stop being overly sensitive to them and move on. The more time we spend on analyzing this B.S., the more time we waste on it and the less we spend accomplishing meaningful legislative tasks. Waste of time, waste of money, waste of emotion. Actions speak louder than words…let’s let our legislatures act instead of paying lip service to this B.S. It’s 2010. Let’s start acting like it.

Kevin

January 11th, 2010
10:18 am

Whenever Ms. Tucker reminds us of her “Jim Crow Upbringing”, I see it as code. It’s her way of saying, “I’m the only true authority on the definition of racism.”

And, alas, the code was correct.

Thank you, my dear Cynthia, for defining for the rest of us a racist comment versus a non-racist comment. How dare someone as, well, white as me even attempt to determine a racist comment? Mea culpa.

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:19 am

john:
Cynbthia wrote: “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.” And you want her to retract that statement? Why? Do you claim that there are no well-educated Northern whites who are racists?

Jess

January 11th, 2010
10:20 am

John,

Perhaps you should have spent some of the time wasted on developing an intolerance for all people southern on learning to spell and complete sentences.

Elephant Whip

January 11th, 2010
10:22 am

If anything, Reid was making an observation about the racism still present in the United States. He was not talking about his own impressions of Obama. He was talking about the likely public perception of Obama and his chance of success at the polls. But the media, and the party lacking power (in this case, Republicans), are always ready to spread the BS.

NRB2

January 11th, 2010
10:22 am

Well of course, Cynthia….when a Republican makes a racial remark, it’s World War 3….when a Democrat makes a racist remark, it’s a pat on the back and the liberal media falls all over itself to defend him.

Typical left wing hypocrisy.

Not only do Democrats hate America…they hate WHITE America even more.

Pierce Randall

January 11th, 2010
10:23 am

A lot of comments here state that the poster knows that Democrats would be more critical of a Republican in this situation, and that this make Democrats hypocrites. First, it’s fantasy thinking that you can peer inside the heads of others–especially a group of others. It’s certainly plausible that political parties of either stripe might hold double standards for themselves and the opposition, but it’s also not hard to imagine that both Republicans and Democrats have internal debates within their voting blocs. It’s certainly a Republican belief–and may well be true–that Democrats value “political correctness,” or (more accurately,) non-offensive statements in reference to diverse groups of people. So it’s also not hard to imagine that Democrats have mixed feelings on this issue, too. It’s also plausible that, since most Democrats and Republicans are white, many probably shrug at both Lott’s and Reid’s remarks.

There may in fact be calls for Reid to resign from Democrats, or (more likely) he may resign on his own, because he faces a tough re-election campaign, and may not be there anyway next year.

Second, if you already believe that both political parties pursue the maxim of political gain for themselves, it shouldn’t surprise you that Democrats or Republicans might take stands that seem hypocritical. If your alleged evidence that Democrats won’t attack Reid, but will attack Lott, is that you somehow know that Democrats only care about politics, you already have your answer before you asked the question. If that’s how you think, Reid didn’t have to say anything–you could just imagine him, or anyone else, talking, and come up with your conclusion. In reality, things are a bit more complicated.

ken

January 11th, 2010
10:23 am

If Cynthia feels that bloggers are sophmoric and not important than I suggest that everyone on this site quit writing. She will lose her job if no one reads her articles.
Reid is a moron as is Pelosi, that being said I can remember several years ago in Detroit that the educators wanted to teach BLACK ENGLISH in the schools.
Cynthis would you please explain to me what is Black English?
After being born & raised in Detroit I know exactly what they were refering to, and was totally against it as it would have made the schools worse in Detroit than they allready are.

I find Cynthias articles one sided at best and I think she also doesn’t want to remember that Obama got more votes from White people than from Blacks, how easiely we forget!

Cynthia if it makes you feel any better I will sign my full name in the future, just ask.

John

January 11th, 2010
10:25 am

So typical of you and the Dems to be hypocrites.

79

January 11th, 2010
10:26 am

Harry and Cynthia are both racist ignoramuses chained to the liberal plantation.

Derwood

January 11th, 2010
10:26 am

THE NEW MEDIA IS A BUNCH OF PRICKS. THEY NEED TO PRINT ALL OF THE NEWS, NOT JUST WHAT THEY AGREE WITH.

john

January 11th, 2010
10:27 am

Mark, I am sure there are a few, but we do not really think about these types of issues nor do we care, we are sick of the race card and we are sick of dumb southerns who think black people should be slaves, hell i am part jewish, you think black people had it bad in the past, they have nothing on the pain and suffering of the jewish people throughout history, spare me of the race card!