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

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
11:56 am

To Carter is a Fool:

There is much wisdom in your 10:10. That’s why it has been so “stupid” to virtually ban the Confederate battle flag. Some emblem offends someone anywhere. Personally, the word “Yankee” offends me !

Isn’t “Negro” used on the new census forms? Oh, the humanity ……………..

By the way, this all evolves over time. “Colored” used to be o.k. but soon “black” will also be politically incorrect. Then “African-American” will be a no no. I don’t know what we will use after that. Anyone have any ideas? Be polite.

Al Dunbar

January 11th, 2010
11:56 am

You “states’ rights” people are funny. What right do you think slaveholding states were talking about? Go to the original sources, i.e., the declarations of secession, and you’ll quickly understand why these states seceded, and, accordingly, what the Civil War was fought over.

Dave

January 11th, 2010
11:56 am

Can someone please explain to me what “black dialect” is?

DT

January 11th, 2010
11:57 am

Zeke and the Civil War rewrite clan…I think you are a few years off in your “slavery wasn’t made the issue until the middle of the war”…why don’t you study some “facts” and back up…Lincoln ran as nominee of a new Party “Republican”, which was an abolitionist party (that’s “abolish” slavery). Southern states, where slavery was still legal, said BEFORE the election, that if the Republican was elected, they would secede from the Union…Lincoln was elected, and all voted to secede as they said they would. Federal troops were then sent to the seceding states and, voila, there was a War Between the States (Civil War, whatever moniker you like). The “slavery” issue that you spoke about did not begin with the Emancipation Proclamation, but with secession by the States, and the firing by one of those States (first seceder South Carolina) on a federal garrison (Fort Sumter)…you can look it up, it’s in all the history books…

George

January 11th, 2010
12:02 pm

The real difference here is that the Republicans court the wealthy white elite vote and own that demographic. The Democrats strive to help the traditionally disenfranchised. That ain’t changin. Reid has a record of serving those he insults.

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
12:03 pm

LET’s fact it…………..DEMs love their RACISTs………….just one more VOTE.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:03 pm

To Dave:

Trust me ………. you don’t want to go there.

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
12:04 pm

George………WHAT A STUPID STATEMENT……JUST PLAIN stupid..

Rational Human Being

January 11th, 2010
12:04 pm

In all this hoopla, is there a presumption that there is something wrong with speaking “negro dialect?”

There isn’t. We all speak one dialect or another.

BTW, I did my PhD work in language and linguistics.

Jess

January 11th, 2010
12:05 pm

Cynthia,

The term racist has been so devalued by folks like you that I’m sure many would rather be called racist than stupid. And by the way. Are we supposed to feel good about the fact that the Senate majority leader is stupid, but at least he’s not racist.

Dave

January 11th, 2010
12:06 pm

Ridgerunner, No, I am serious. The conversation is centered around Reid’s “Black dialect” comment but I am not sure what that dialect is. Can someone explain it please?

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:06 pm

To DT:

It was the war between the “United States of America” (obviously an oxymoron at the time) and the “Confederate States of America”.

And of course you know that Lincoln said many times he would keep slavery if it meant keeping the Union.

Aman

January 11th, 2010
12:06 pm

Tucker failed to mention one obvious racist, herself.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:06 pm

Would some “M F” please explain this to Dave?

Person Who's Actually Taken a Civil War Course

January 11th, 2010
12:07 pm

DT
January 11th, 2010
11:57 am

Zeke and the Civil War rewrite clan…I think you are a few years off in your “slavery wasn’t made the issue until the middle of the war”…

———————-

And every state issued a declaration of secession. Most of those declarations go on and on about slavery: slavery is wonderful; slavery was ordained by God; we have to kill the dirty Yankees who want to take away our slaves; we have to have slave so that white boys can have sex without defiling white women …

The Old South was an intensely racist society.

Jon but not Jon Voight

January 11th, 2010
12:13 pm

Why is the Deep South the “Red States”?

Mindless Liberalism

January 11th, 2010
12:13 pm

Who could forget Geraldine Ferraro’s comment about Obama when he was wrestling with Hillary?

“He would not be where he is today if he were white.”

No outrage in the media or from the bed wetting liberals.

Or how about the way so many left wing moonbat liberals who called Condi Rice racial epithets like “Aunt Jemima” just because she was a part of a Republican administration? Again, no outrage in the media or anywhere else in liberal land.

Democrats/liberals are such pathetic hypocrites it’s disgusting.

Carter is a Fool

January 11th, 2010
12:14 pm

Ridgerunner,
I do wonder what will be OK when Black is equal to either of the N words unless you are that skin color. The battle flag offends many and should not be displayed except over the appropriate grave yard where those soldiers are buried or some historical marker.

I found it silly when the debate was on over the state flag when some folks were so offended yet by their logic – the US Flag should be redesigned as it also flew over slavery, and the Jim Crow south not to mention the mass slaughter of the Native Americans.

Hopefully, one day we will be past all of this idiocy and truly be able to see people for their quality of their character and strength of a common culture.

Eddie

January 11th, 2010
12:15 pm

I thought Lott was just trying to make an old man feel good at his birthday party, without really thinking about what he was saying or the import of his remarks. And would have also accepted his apology. All of us have made remarks at one time or another off the top of our head without thinking of the consequences, and regretted it.

I don’t know where Reid made those comments. Were they made in a private conversation with no intent to be made public.I have to agree that speaking correct english is a requirment to being elected. That’s problably what Reid meant. And it is a true statement. But shoud not have to said outloud, but should not be offensive.

When Jimmy Carter was running for President some of us worried about his southern accent. It would have been true to say he couldn’t have been elected president if he spoke southern hillbilly (which I am) accent, and would not have made me angry. I think I probably said that at the time, that it was good for him he did not have a deep southerrn accent or dialect. True statement. Most yankees think southerners that talk slow are dumb. When I doing business with people outside the south, I always spoke quickly and put an edge on my words and ditched my accent as much as possible.

Facts of life. Life goes on.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:15 pm

The “War Between the States” was about economics of which slavery was a substantial part (including tariffs, etc.). Don’t forget slavery at the time was Constitutional as was child labor in later years as is our state sponsored welfare system today. Yankee slave runners continued to try to bring new slaves in right up until the end of the war. Great Britain outlawed slavery in it’s colonies only about 40 years before. After the war, freed blacks could not vote in many northern states and couldn’t even travel there without posting a bond (usually $1,000). I could go on and on but ……………………..

If you fail to keep all of this in the context of the time in which it happened you cannot even begin to grasp its historic meaning.

Wading in

January 11th, 2010
12:17 pm

Jen,

While I don’t think anyone on this board is dumb enough to suggest that slavery should have been upheld, the notion that the war between the states wasn’t about state’s rights is inane. The issue of slavery was in the linchpin in the discussion about state’s rights, but don’t be so naive to think that this conflict was only about slavery.

If it was, then how come the emancipation proclamation in 1863 only applied to Confederate States, while northern states continued to employ slavery? It wasn’t until 1865 that slavery was abolished in the U.S. It’s a fact most history books tend to gloss over in their efforts to lionize Lincoln as some hero in this cause. Even Grant kept slaves after the war. And they didn’t move to give freed slaves any kind of rights. That in and of itself ought to signal to any thinking person that there was WAY more to the war between the states that just slavery.

gkmlaw

January 11th, 2010
12:18 pm

I don’t suppose that the distinction has anything to do with Reid being a Dem. Come on Cynthia, show at least an ounce of intellectual integrity. Certainly, this torments even you to have to justify.

C from Marietta

January 11th, 2010
12:19 pm

To SAD,

Finally someone that gets it! They are magicians. Look here while I screw you yet again – That’s Washington. Their strategy is to divide and conquer. Isn’t anyone besides SAD and I that are concerned about the way politics is headed in Washington? OR are humans doomed to “get off” on hating one another. I for one am sick and tried of it!

Alan

January 11th, 2010
12:21 pm

Cynthia, we are all very relieved to finally have a person to turn to when it comes to what is and isn’t racist. You need to read what you write. You have NO business being in the position you are because of your hypocritical ways. Give us a break and resign.

ASM

January 11th, 2010
12:23 pm

Democrats are flushing this country down the sewer.

CB

January 11th, 2010
12:24 pm

Thank you, Ms Tucker for an insightful look into this Reid discussion. I will not disrespect your opinion with racially charged statements INAPPROPRIATE statements like some of our other LESS TACTFUL AJC readers. Whether I agree or disagree that Reid should step down (and I do believe to get this thing over with, he may need to), I appreciate your thoughts. Unfortunately, this Reid-Game Change debate is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Thanks again, Ms. Tucker. Some of your readers DO APPRECIATE YOU!

B

January 11th, 2010
12:25 pm

Lott = Wrong
Reid = Wrong

Pain is not specific to one group of people.

Liberals are this, Conservatives are this… ZZZZZZZZZZ. Boring.

The truth is while people are wasting time with stuff like this, we could spend energy on keeping all of these bums honest.

Albert

January 11th, 2010
12:25 pm

So, was Al Sharpton’s role in the Tawanna Brawley affair racist or just stupidity? Just wondering.

Independent

January 11th, 2010
12:28 pm

Lighten up everyone. Ebonics have morphed from being an urban dialect to Obama administration policies hell bent on destroying our economy.

Williebkind

January 11th, 2010
12:28 pm

Everytime someone makes a racist comment the south comes up! Harry Reid is from Nevada. So all of you and I do not care what color your are can kiss my white southern a$$. Chicago needs you really bad so go there as soon as possible–or Washinton DC. I grew up learning DC ment Dark Continent.

swsjr

January 11th, 2010
12:29 pm

It was honesty. Nothing more, nothing less. EVERYONE knows it to be true

Greg Kaiser

January 11th, 2010
12:29 pm

Yawn.

Reading the responses to these kinds of editorials is often more entertaining and informative than reading the editorials themselves. If you want to know about race relations or the political ideology of the FoxNews and MSNBC fringe wacko’s look no further than the blogs following any AJC article or editorial that mentions the words “racist,” “President Obamam” or “Confederate flag.”

Litmus test: if you rely on Fox News or MSNBC as your primary (not sole… primary) source of news, you are politically and socially unintelligent. You know who you are.

Ricardo Cabeza

January 11th, 2010
12:30 pm

Miz Tuckah sho no how to rile folks up now don’t she! Lawd, she do!

Jimmy62

January 11th, 2010
12:31 pm

So Harry wasn’t being racist, he was just saying that he doesn’t like blacks that act black. Basically he was denigrating black culture in America. Not racist at all, just a reference to a particular group and some stereotypes of that group…

Oh wait, making vast generalizations about people based on their race IS racist. In Cynthia’s rush to excuse anything that a Democrat says, I almost forgot what racist means according to the dictionary, as opposed to Cynthia’s definition: “Anything a Republican says that is true and I don’t like” is racist.

Eddie

January 11th, 2010
12:32 pm

South and North were two different countries and cultures from the beginning, and in many ways still are. Refusal of Lincoln to left new western states decide whether to allow slavery was just the last straw. South Carolina wanted out long before that.

That’s past history. So are Reid’s statements, and Lott’s.

Time to move on. Faulkner was wrong, the past is eventually past, and dead.

Randall

January 11th, 2010
12:32 pm

Cynthia, YOU are the Queen of stupidity! A.K.A. The Village Idiot.

jack

January 11th, 2010
12:33 pm

Ms. Tucker, I doubt you are paid enough to read the moronic ramblings of the bloggers on your column. I’ve read your column all the way back when you started as a 20-something. In those days you were so shrill (the foolishness of the young) that it was difficult to understand why the AJC allowed you to write.

Over the years you have become an honest, thoughtful writer, which, of course infuriates the crazies on both the left and the right; and the black and the white.

Your detractors are so filled with anger and bias, they blog to let some of it out before it kills them.
In this sense, you are offering an outlet for them.

Note to “PeaDawg”. You really have some serious emotional issues. Get help. Really.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:34 pm

To Wading in:

Good try but remember you are dealing with closed minds here.

Have you read “The Real Lincoln” by Thomas DiLornezo? If not …….. it’s a must.

shortywop

January 11th, 2010
12:35 pm

If we put politics aside, the statement is so very true. I am one who has benefitted from talking the proper English.
Instead of concetrating on what others think we should be focusing on the education of our children regardless of skin tone. The conversations should be held in our schools, churches and homes that if you speak like you grew up on the street then people dismiss you. You need to be able to make an impression with a written resume and over the phone before anyone even knows you are black or another race. I have seen the shock on faces of people I have worked with for years via phone and then was able to meet face to face. They had no clue I was black.
I find it funny that it seems to be an anomally that blacks act differently in different situations. Whites and others do this all of the time.
I care less about Lott or Reid. It is time to focus our efforts on the truth and then educate those around us.
Cynthia, I think you could have taken a diffent and more effective tact with the article. Let’s forget about the politics and talk about the real truth that is revealed by this release of info.

Roz

January 11th, 2010
12:37 pm

it’s not what you call me, it’s what I answered to.

Mr. Tuna

January 11th, 2010
12:37 pm

Brad, don’t you think Obama should be reelected because of his successes? Not because a unqualified person is running against him? Typical dem thinking. You just want a leader who is a democrat. However I am proud of you for admitting to vote for the present socialistic leaning president , I have met very few who say they voted for O. Have a normal day!

Betsy

January 11th, 2010
12:39 pm

You say, Republicans look “for any opportunity to damage Democrats.” Well, madam, the Democrats ditto. How that fact continues to escape you is beyond me. In fact, nearly everything, if not everything, you accuse Republicans or conservatives of, the Democrats are equally guilty. Failure to recognize or admit this does not make for good reporting.

Then you close by saying that “Lott was run off by Republicans, who pressured him to resign. Enough with the hypocrisy, already.” If the Republicans now pressure Reid to resign, there is no hypocrisy at all. They “run off” Republicans for alleged racist remarks, they clamor to run Democrats for alleged racist remarks, where’s the gol durn hypocrisy, lady?

Your article, as usual, makes me close my eyes, shake my head, and think “Oh good grief.”

In addition, comments posted on a blog or in response to your articles, anonymous or not, sometimes have insights and observances worth reading. You might try some time.

George

January 11th, 2010
12:41 pm

Most white Americans are the same..left or right..most of them have at least some racist leanings. Learnt the lesson the hard way when I lived in Singapore.

IRollSmoke

January 11th, 2010
12:42 pm

Can’t we all get along. Here have some of this (*. .*)

RJ

January 11th, 2010
12:46 pm

Why don’t you slavery “experts” forget the Civil War, and spend your time on actual slavery? It exists TODAY in Chad, Mali, the Sudan, the Middle East, Asia, Haiti, and others. That does not count sexual slavery of some form in most countries in the world. Would that task take some actual effort on your part beyond sitting at you comp and making snide comments to people that aren’t as enlightened as you?

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
12:47 pm

Cynthia is defending A RACIST Remark made by a leader in the democratic party…..

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:50 pm

To RJ:

It exists right here in this country.

By the way, why is Reid such a “wimpy” looking guy ?

mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack the LIAR Obama

January 11th, 2010
12:50 pm

That’s only because Reid’s a dem. If Reid was a republican it would be racist, understand.

Fry this fish….BROKEN campaign promises and bringing change to Washington
• Rarely does a politician get caught in such a blatant break of a campaign promise as President Obama did with his “I’ll put health care negotiations on C-SPAN” pledge. Obama had promised at least eight times during his run for presidency that he would do so

mom3

January 11th, 2010
12:50 pm

“Blogs, admittedly, are not the best format for discussing race relations. ”

Then why, Cynthia, do you infuse racism into every SINGLE thing you write?

Huckleberry

January 11th, 2010
12:51 pm

What I don’t get is that this supposedly was in a private conversation. With who? Why is no one talking about the inherent breaking of trust of a private conversation? Especially with a well-known political leader? That’s how it is with the big boys – there’s on the record, and there’s off the record. So how /why did this private conversation not only come to light, but get published in a major book?