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

Frank

January 11th, 2010
10:28 am

Of course Cynthia doesn’t think it is racist because a Democrat said these words!

Say What??

January 11th, 2010
10:29 am

Is Harry Reid the Senator from Nevada or the Grand Wizard from Nevada?

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:29 am

ken: That many bloggers are sophomoric is well documented by many comments on these pages.

sam

January 11th, 2010
10:30 am

Jess, Obama was a state senator when lott resigned his post…so how would he have been part of the congress that ran him off?

john

January 11th, 2010
10:31 am

JEss, Sorry i am working and do not have time to “proof read” someone has to pay for all the welfare that the southern states force the northern ones to pay for

ben

January 11th, 2010
10:32 am

Cynthia is always one-sided. The whites are racist and everyone else is downtrodden is her view. How can she be Editorial editor and have worked so hard to elect Obama? Impartiality? Not her, never.

JD in Marietta

January 11th, 2010
10:33 am

Harry made his comments nearly 2 years ago and is now only apologizing when he finds out his stupid remarks are being published in a book. Wonder if he’s truly sorry or sorry that he got caught?

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:35 am

What Reid said was not racist, it was a simple, politically incorrect truth. It is interesting how many people who usually cry against PC now now pretend to offended.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

January 11th, 2010
10:39 am

Sam @ 9:49 is correct. Republicans, unhappy with the comparatively free-spending style of Mr. Lott, were looking for an excuse to dismiss him. Had Mr. Lott enjoyed general republican support, his “happy birthday, Sen. Thurmond” would have survived scrutiny (no rational person reads anything racist in such a comment.) In contrast, Sen Reid is now his own critical 60th vote to remake health care into the world-wide socialist model – the leftists are silenced by fear of replacement.

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:42 am

john: I understand what you are saying, but whether there are few or many racists in the North is eally irrelevant to what Cynthia wrote: She recognized the racism of those she met, and that is all she wrote about. As for Jewish vs. blacks’ suffering, I do not think that should even be a subject for comparison.

Huac

January 11th, 2010
10:43 am

It’s all a diversion, and an effective one at that, in this ‘post-racial’ era we were assured would occur. What we should be paying attention to is Ms. Tucker’s last subject, “Eventually, Obama has to raise taxes, as Reagan did”, since her true function is as a propagandist for the White House.

EVIL REPUBLICANS TIME IS UP

January 11th, 2010
10:44 am

CYNTHIA SOMETIMES I THINK YOU FORGET WHERE YOU COME FROM ALABAMA AND JIM CROW? YOU FORGET THAT YOU ARE STILL IN THE EVIL SOUTH SURROUNDED BY NEO-NAZIS AND KLAN MEMBERS!

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:45 am

“..to remake health care into the world-wide socialist model.” That is so laughable, even though it is not funny.

Leroy&Bubba

January 11th, 2010
10:48 am

Whether you like Harry Reid or not, apparently his commens had merit. Obama is a light skinned blck man, that is “artiulate”, and …..he became president. The same can be said of Cynthia, light skinned, articluate, liberal, successful in her profession. It can also be said that they are both well educated, hard working, passionate, motivated, aggressive in the pursuit of their beliefs. Whether you agree with either of them it’s the characteristics of successful people. Should have Trent Lott OR Harry Reid resign for their comments, NO. This country needs to get over this over-sensitivity, it makes us weak. It’s why we refuse to call muslim terrorists, “muslim terrorists”. Grow a backbone, get a thicker skin. Call me a “cracker” if you want, I couldn’t care less.

Davis

January 11th, 2010
10:48 am

SUCH hypocrisy and lies! IT IS Racism, pure, unadulterated, plain and simple and YOU or NO ONE else, without truth on their lips can say otherwise. The difference is, he is of the political stripe and persuasion you endorse and are stained with. I don’t know how some of you idiodic, stupid people, live with yourselves. If one happens to be in your camp, they can say, do or act anyway they wish, and often do, and its alright, you are a GOOD person, its ok honey, just dont do it again. One day we will all have to give an account of the lies and coverups this world is drowing in! Democrats, ie, the ‘old white dudes’ creeping around the halls of congress are MORE racist than those they accuse.

hoodtechie

January 11th, 2010
10:49 am

As a black American male I think this is what disuses me more than anything. People like Cynthia and other black leaders who were offended by the word Negro on the census report, but not at all by the word coming out of someone’s mouth. Only because he is a democrat will he get a pass in the black community, just as Robert Byrd for being an ex-Klansman. It is no wonder anyone takes these so called black leaders seriously especially in the black community. Where is (Al, Jesse, NAACP, SCLC) all keeping quiet because they were told to. This is very dark day in our community when someone of this stature can stand up and say this and none of our so called leaders will condemn his remarks and apply pressure to have him removed. I agree with the white community 100%, had this been a republican all hell would have broke out.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

January 11th, 2010
10:50 am

Gee Mark, I thought the funny line was my tag – ” the leftists are silenced by fear of replacement.”

JD in Marietta

January 11th, 2010
10:50 am

Examples of hypocrisy:
Democratic comments that are given a pass:
-Jesse Jackson referring to a Jewish section of New York as “Hymie Town” -No outrage from the Left;he misspoke.
-Al Sharpton referring to white business owners in Harlem as “White Interlopers”-No outrage from the left;he misspoke
-Bill Clinton stating that “a few years ago Obama would have been getting them coffee”-No outrage from the left;he misspoke
-Harry Reid-Obama has “no Negro Dialect”-No outrage from the left;he misspoke

Conservative comments that were offensive to the Left:
-Trent Lott-Reference to Strom Thurmond being elected president in 1948-Lott was pressured to resign by both Right and Left. He’s a racist
-Rush Limbaugh-States that the only reason the press isnt being critical of QB Donovan McNabb is because he’s black and they dont want to be labeled racists-This type of bluntness was offensive to the Rev. Jesse and Al. Boycotts ensued.He’s a racist
-Don Imus-Jokingly referred to the Rutgers Ladies basketball teams as “Nappy Headed Ho’s”-Personally run off the air by Rev Al Sharpton despite issuing apologies to Rutgers players and coaches. He’s a racist
The list of hypocrisy from the Left is endless………

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
10:52 am

YES….CYNTHIA……..You liberals….& Socialist…..& Communists STICK TOGETHER…YES…YOU DO.

Robert Henderson

January 11th, 2010
10:54 am

IT is not about race or ideology. Most people forgive people who are not trying to do them in. Lott,Thurmond, and “The Southern Manifesto” speak volumes. Cynthia is right as usual. You people are trying to mix apples and oranges.

OneFreeMan

January 11th, 2010
10:56 am

My bigot is not really a bigot.

Terry

January 11th, 2010
10:56 am

No Cynthia, Reid is a racial divider. He said what he feels and I am sure he meant it. He is just trying to continue to survive and I can bet Nevada wants him out. And please remember that is was the Democrats that did not want the vote or equality to the blacks in the 60’s. It was the Republican party that made sure equality was given.

Ric Spratlin

January 11th, 2010
10:56 am

We are ALL racists to some degree. And no its’ not just a black vs. white thing. Learn to deal with because its’ not going away anytime soon. As an example can anyone explain why 95% of the black population voted for Obama? That’s about as racists as it gets but its’ not a black vs. white thing! LOL :)

Brad

January 11th, 2010
11:00 am

You are so right, Cynthia. These sick conservatives are grasping at anything to take the spotlight off of Sarah Palin, who will be the next canditate for President for the Repubs – guaranteeing a second term for Obama

Chris

January 11th, 2010
11:01 am

Cynthia – thanks for confirming what many of us know. Racist is always the other parties’ problem.

It’s so sad we cannot get past al of this and deal with what matters more – jobs, healthcare, respect for everyone……….

Kris 10

January 11th, 2010
11:04 am

ClemsonNeil and hoodtechie – voices of reason. God love ya.

neo-Carlinist

January 11th, 2010
11:05 am

this is all very amusing, as if there is a difference between “racism” and “stupidity”? Reid is both a racist and stupid, which interestingly enough seems to uniquely qualify him for his job (politician). equally amusing is the indignation and shock conveyed by OTHER politicians (a/k/a “stupid racisits”). Oh, and Turd Ferguson, the Civil War WAS about slavery. You’ve got it back-asswards. The slavery debate became a “states rights” debate. Without slavery there call for Secesssion or embrace of “states rights” on the part of the Confederacy. The Confederacy “declared war” on the Federal government because it believed it that “slavery” was a right. History is the study of facts/actual events; not hypethesis and speculation.

Marie

January 11th, 2010
11:06 am

I’m sorry but as an African-American female I do find Senator Reid’s comments offensive and the man needs to go. First of all African-Americans have not been referred to as Negros for years in this country and to use that term in and of itself gives me the impression that the man was attempting to denigrate and impugn a race of Americans. Secondly, Senator Reid would have never said that a Caucasian would do well because he doesn’t speak with a Southern dialect, or a Bostonian or NY accent, or how about a good ol Texan sounding voice. So to single out “Negros” as having some special dialect is outrageous. And finally when you couple this with his offhanded remarks about Justice Thomas being unable to write well and implying that he was “less intelligent” then the other 9 justices. There can be no doubt that Senator Reid has a strong racial bias which he has been able to suppress, but, which rears its ugly head in these off-colored remarks. And he should not be allowed to continue to get away with this nonesense.

Davis

January 11th, 2010
11:08 am

THANK YOU!, hoodtechie, his comment is eloquent! Again, where ARE all of the BIG MOUTH blabbers who are always waiting in the wings if a Republican or person to the right breathes wrong? It is as plain as the nose on your face and the sad part, they KNOW it, but wont admit it!

RJ (using Caucausian dialect)

January 11th, 2010
11:11 am

Jane, you ignorant slut.

Anonymous

January 11th, 2010
11:12 am

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

Joey

January 11th, 2010
11:14 am

“Sorry I am working and do not have time to “proof read”. Someone has to pay for all the welfare that the southern states force the northern ones to pay for.”

More Americans of African decent live in the Southern States, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, MS, LA, AR & TN. Was this a racist comment? Is the Northerner who wrote this a racist? Or is he only a Regional Bigot?

Fox sucks

January 11th, 2010
11:15 am

First of all, Negro is a viable word. You are of Negro, Black, Africian American decent yourself. None of those words are negative.
Since a Negro dialect is considered a negative by many white Americans, not having that dialect and being a Harvard grad is a positive for purposes of National electibility.

I am from Atlanta originally. I still have some Southern dialect which on a National basis is a negative. Outside the South, most equate a Southern dialect with Gomer Pyle and toothless racist. That is why I worked to get rid of it.

Oprah Winfrey has no Negro dialect. Andrew Young does not have the Negro dialect that rural Blacks in Georgia do. A Negro dialect and a Southern dialect are kind of looked at as being from the uneducated. A Negro dialect has very similar to a Southern dialet with some additional slang mixed in.

I think what Mr. Reed was saying is that Obama is electible to the mainstream American people and he was right. Not ethnic.. A hispanic would have to be careful to use perfect english to be accepted by middle America.

The Republican party is sick.. Facism runs rampant in the America of today.. When the number one Republican network (Fox) who’s #1 guy can’t own an NFL team because he played “the Magic Negro” on election day and was fired by ESPN for recial remarks and another (Hannity) who was fired from his college radio station for being a racist and has regularly had extreme White Supremicist on his program (Hal Martin), you know you party might have a problem. A little Fox Swastika emblem in the works and Mr. Steele might wear his honorary version as well.

ken

January 11th, 2010
11:17 am

Anybody with a brain knows that there is a double standard. Even Cindy.

Jimbo

January 11th, 2010
11:19 am

reid and tucker – two most racist i know of

sam

January 11th, 2010
11:21 am

didnt CT say that what Lott said was NOT racist? I’m confused

Thogwummpy

January 11th, 2010
11:23 am

Yet another reason to despise Cynthia Tucker’s guts. Lott wasn’t even remotely thinking about racism, and if liberals had any measure of honor, they’d admit that virtually EVERY southern politician (especially Democrats) at the time that Strom ran for President, were segregationists. Cynthia’s ilk danced on the head of a pin to twist and fabricate Lott’s innocent toast into “blatent racism” when clearly it had no racial intent at all. Now when Reid makes a statement that can’t be measured as anything BUT racist…Tucker defends him and marginalizes the statement. I LOATHE liberalism, because of the snotty, snide, self-righteous double standards. Cyntia…YOU are a bigot (based on the rheems of anti-white columns you’ve written); and if I could do so, I’d spit in your face!

nmbrsman

January 11th, 2010
11:24 am

The bottom line is that if a white, Republican had made the same comment as the white, Democrat Harry Reid, Ms.Tucker would be at the forefront demanding his resignation. There is and probably always will be a double standard when it comes to the media and the treatment of white conservatives. It is always a case that you cannot criticize or disagree with a Democrat, especially a black Democrat, without being called a racist.

Marcel Marceau (using mime dialect)

January 11th, 2010
11:25 am

,.?,”",.?!

Jimbo

January 11th, 2010
11:26 am

where is jesse jackson, al sharptongue and the gang? alls quiet on the racist front.

SAD

January 11th, 2010
11:27 am

It saddens me that some stupid remarks can create responses that take us back to an era that few would want to return. What about the real issues of today!

We are being taken to the cleaners every day by a political system that dooms us — Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, and Racists — yes all of us. If all of you are so smart, why do we allow politics as usual in Washington? IF we voted for change, there is none. We cannot even past a Health Care Bill without politicians tagging on their special projects costing billions of dollars. Will the Health Care Bill be effective with all of the special interest projects included? Why don’t we demand more from our elected officials?

Pork Barrel Politics in Washington should be a slap in the face to every voter. Instead of demanding more, we sit at our computers and respond to all of this nonsense that is not going to change one thing. We have got to get smarter than this.

Take some of your valuable time and send an email to your Congressman and say you have had it and things must change. Then vote for someone who you think will help to bring about change. We need new leadership from top to bottom and perhaps Obama would have no excuse to CHANGE
.

sam

January 11th, 2010
11:28 am

so much hate, so little time.

Gary Coleman (using Negro dialect)

January 11th, 2010
11:30 am

What choo talkin bout Cynthia?

RJ

January 11th, 2010
11:36 am

You can be sure that when Obama is ballin’ with his Homies, a little ghetto dialect slips out. Along with the secret Black handshake.

Jess

January 11th, 2010
11:38 am

Cynthia,

The bottom line is that there is not a person here, regardless of what they say, who believes that you would be saying the same thing if Saxby Chambliss had uttered the exact same words.

steve

January 11th, 2010
11:41 am

snoqualmiefalls

January 11th, 2010
11:43 am

I find it amusing reading comments defending the display of the Confederate Flag. Question… why fly the flag of the losing side from a Civil War over a hundred years ago? Are you folks celebrating your loss, celebrating the fact that your ancestors were losers?… rather odd. It is funny we don’t see this practice in China or Russia or Germany or Japan, why the American South??

M Anthony

January 11th, 2010
11:44 am

Interesting how all the white bloggers come out in defense of what is racist and what is not racist. Some many here seem to be the authority on and about black people and the way they talk and what they look like. How about displaying that same vigor when it comes to getting the schools here in Georgia to do better. Or is that anger only limited to blaming black folks for the attitudes of white people.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
11:48 am

Craig:

Your logic escapes me. We’re not talking about flying a flag over the State Capitol in Albany, NY with the Nazi symbol and a likeness of a gas oven on it. Are you saying Jews would not be upset with that?

Mrs. T. R.

January 11th, 2010
11:52 am

No, the comment that Senator Reid made was not racist. It is a FACT. Any Negro, Black, African American will tell you that there is a prejudice that exist if you are a dark skinned as oppose to a light skinned.

If the Republicans spend as much time working with the Democratic Congress to solve the woes of this country as they do in trying to find every little thing to criticize the Democrats and especially the President, the country would be better off.

Mr. Steele, please tell me where in the World can a person have a job and refuse to do that job for 4 to 6 years? The answer, only if he is a Republican member of Congress. When a Republican member of Congress was censured by the South Carolina Republican House Members because he worked with the Democrats on Health Care and the Global Environment, then there is a problem with the system. I feel that if the Republicans in Congress do not work, then they should ALL be fired. We should not pay them if they refuse to work. While they are not working, the people they suppose to represent continues to struggle.

Republicans it is not just Democrats who need better health care, better schools, employment, etc., it is also the people you suppose to represent.

Wake up and stop nit picking and perform the job that you was elected to perform.