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

Obama

January 11th, 2010
3:07 pm

What do you call a White person on ‘Jeopardy’? A. A contestant!

OBAMA

January 11th, 2010
3:14 pm

Harry Reid loves this one. Why did the White man cross the road? A. To get to his job!

OBAMA

January 11th, 2010
3:19 pm

How many White men does it take to screw in a light bulb? A. One!

OBAMA

January 11th, 2010
3:22 pm

What do you call a bunch of White people sitting on a bench? (Old punch line) A. The Supreme Court! (New punch line) A. The NBA!

IRISHMAFIA

January 11th, 2010
3:33 pm

Then I’m sure you won’t be offended when I say “for a nigra girl she sure writes a lot of articles”. Not good ones but she writes them nonetheless.

stranger in a strange land

January 11th, 2010
3:34 pm

I got an anecdote, itamazesme got an anecdote, cynthina got an anecdote, all God’s children got an anecdote – but Oh Lord!! – whom will you send to provide a rational, logical, reason as to why (D) Reid statement is not worthy of the same reproach as (R) fill in the blank.

Skip

January 11th, 2010
3:40 pm

I guess none of you have ever been in a rural barbershop in this state. You’d really know how the good old boys feel.

uga_b

January 11th, 2010
3:45 pm

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??

—-I believe all those countries still fly their national flags. Tibet also still flies their flags.

ck hall

January 11th, 2010
3:48 pm

This story reminds me of the Middle East. Arabs and Jews have been at each other for over 2,000 years..So it will be in America between Whites and Blacks–It never stops..Or in Northern Ireland for over 400 hundred years or in Africa between the the Hutu’s and Tutsies, or in Iraq/Iran between Shiite and Suni Muslims..It is human nature!Sorry to say that but it is the truth.

Constructive Feedback

January 11th, 2010
3:52 pm

Ms Tucker:

Various Black Democrats are coming to Harry “Woodrow Wilson” Reid’s defense, pointing to his track record on CIVIL RIGHTS.

Question for you Ms Tucker:
Do YOU consider the results that are occurring today in the Black Community that so closely approximate the DEADLY results that happened during the ‘Civil Rights’ Movement to be “CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS” just the same?

Last month the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about the gross state of affairs of the criminal justice system in they city. There was an abundance of Witness Intimidation, Do It Yourself Revenge Justice and a hapless legal system that was made dysfunctional by willing Defense Attorneys that played the system.

I don’t understand how the Congressional Black Caucus can PRETEND that they are the arbiters of WHO is a “Civil Rights Advocate” when their districts and so many other “Progressively Lead” districts are the sight of today’s unchecked civil rights violations – that of Black on Black crime.

The CBC needs to be stripped of their ability to bestow such cover upon anyone.

bmchast

January 11th, 2010
3:55 pm

As an African American, female, 57 years old, I must say that if this is the worst comment that Harry Reid has made I do not see a need for a big uproar.

What I see as blatant racism is the white male journalist (and some females) on a news station, clearly in what I suppose is to be a covert way, disrespecting the President by not addressing his title properly (President Obama), or adding some derogatory remark to their statements instead of presenting an objective report.

Just look in their eyes, the hatred and disdain betrays these journalists. I’ve seen it on all the news networks. These are the people that need to make an apology, and if you are not man/woman enough to make an apology, just check yourself and stop being jack asses.

Also, I feel certain that if you run a list of the democrats and republicans that have made racially derogatory remarks, the list would be lengthy.

Urban Republican

January 11th, 2010
3:57 pm

Double standard, hypocrisy! Remember it was the “old-way-of-thinking” behind Trent Lott’s comments that was so scandalous. Clearly, Harry Reid thinks only light skinned blacks with proper dialect can be president, which is a notion that clearly perpetuates “color consciousness” which is racism. If Mitch McConnell had made the same comment, the media, civil rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus would be calling for his resignation.

Tom Middleton

January 11th, 2010
3:58 pm

Cynthia, what if I said, “I admire you for your ability to write good political commentary, but even more so because you’re black.” Would you think me prejudice? Probably, albeit prejudice FOR you, not against.

And what if you told me I was a fairly good writer, for a goofy-looking white boy, would you be prejudice? Again, probably, but who in their right mind would care, for your intent to compliment would be clear.

But what if I said that you have no right to make good political commentary because you’re black, and you told me that I was too stupid to be taken seriously because I’m white, would this be prejudice? I’m pretty sure that most could recognize this as the kind of prejudice America can do without, for it keeps us divided, not united, in our constitutional pursuit of freedom for all of us.

So what did Harry Reid say that was so wrong, especially since he was arguing in favor of a Barack Obama presidency, not against? And why is the Republican Party so hell-bent on keeping our beloved America divided, not united, in their absolute determination to find something wrong with every single thing the Democrats do?

Here’s an idea: Let’s give ourselves a certain amount of leeway in dealing with each other, recognizing good intentions when they’re present, and saving our shock and concern for that kind of prejudice that harms us – prejudice that divides. I’m pretty sure we all can learn to tell the difference if we really, really try, even those ignert Mo-Fos in the Republican Party, who can’t seem to get anything right these days! :)

Bite Me

January 11th, 2010
4:03 pm

OOOOHHH! Fox Sucks is mad….better hide the children.

This is what passes for thought on the left

Bite Me

January 11th, 2010
4:06 pm

Cynthia Tucker–Racism or stupidity?
Ummmm…..
I’m thinking….
Is both a choice?

reasonable

January 11th, 2010
4:07 pm

At the risk of riling folks up – to those who argue that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War. You are plain wrong, whether it was outrage in the upper South at limitations on expansion of slavery into the terrorities, fear of Republican influence through patronage in South Carolina and other deep South states that threatened slavery as an institution, or fear that the sales of slaves from the upper South to the lower South would increase the level of slaves in the lower South beyond the capacity of the lower South to control or absorb, slavery was at the core of the conflict. A review of the letters, speeches, and secession decrees of the time leave no doubt as to the centrality of slavery. For reference, please check speeches and letters by Jefferson Davis, Robert Toombs. Alexander Stephens, Robert Barnwell Rhett, William Lowndes Yancey among others, as well as the various states’ secession decrees. As to Lincoln, he opposed slavery on a personal level long before he was elected president and long before he issued his emancipation order affecting the seceeding states in 1862 (effective January 1, 1863). Further, Lincoln by the definitions of his time was a white supremacist but as even a shallow review of his orginal documents reveal, he evolved over time away from that view. By 1863 – 1865, he was meeting with the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the While House and Douglass said that of all the white leadership he met, Lincoln was the only one who he felt treated him as an equal. While Linclon does not meet the criterion for race relations for our times, he clearly held some of the most advanced views on race relations of any politician who had any sort of reasonable chance to be elected president in 1860.
As to Ms. Tucker’s contention on Senator Lott and Strom Thurmond, even a quick review of Thurmond’s career reveals his deep seated support of segregation, clear racist behavior, and zeal to deny African-Americans even basic levels of equality. I agree with Ms. Tucker that Lott’s comments were insensitive more than racist as were Reid’s. That both behaved stupidily is really beyond dispute. Finally, before someone writes in and says I do not know my history, let me explain my background. I hold a Ph.D. in history, have published articles and book reviews in history and read endless books on the South, the secession crisis, and the Civil War as well as endless amounts of primary source material. I am a white southerner with ancestors who fought in the Confederate Army. I admire their bravery, not their cause. History is too important to be distorted for current political and/or ideological views.

Dave

January 11th, 2010
4:11 pm

Tom Middleton @ 3:58

“even those ignert Mo-Fos in the Republican Party”

Is this what Reid was talking about when he referred to “Negro dialect?”

OBAMA

January 11th, 2010
4:14 pm

What does a White person do before a test? A. He studies!

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
4:24 pm

CYNTHIA…….you liberals are such blatant HYPOCRITs…….it is so transparent…..& obvious

Dr. R

January 11th, 2010
4:25 pm

Well, it’s both, since racism is a specific form of stupidity. I’m less focused, though, on whether there is a double standard for Democrats, than I am on the fact that Reid is a really lousy leader for the party, as is Pelosi. Ideology aside, those two are completely inept at leading an agenda in Congress. The first thing the president should have done after taking office was to fire them both and find competent leaders for both houses that could help him achieve his goals. Harry and Nancy are complete buffoons, both of them, and need to be thrown out. Alas. political parties seem to tolerate ineptitude because they put a higher value on seniority and orthodoxy to the party line than actual competence. The GOP has been no better in recent years. Can’t we get anybody GOOD to run the country? Right, left, whatever, someone with brains and the ability to think creatively and articulate a clear message, not just wet their finger to the prevailing winds.

Dr. R

January 11th, 2010
4:28 pm

And to follow through on Cynthia’s thought, if Reid isn’t a racist but is just an incompetent idiotic boob instead, is that a whole lot better for the country? I mean, I don’t want a Klansman in charge of anything (Robert Byrd …) but I think we also ought to have leaders who know better than to stick their huge foot in their flapping mouths all the time. Someone please tell me what Reid (or Pelosi) have done to earn their mantles as party leader other than show up for a long time? Reid is a complete fool and the sooner the Democrats get rid of him, the sooner they’ll be taken seriously as a majority party.

Marshall

January 11th, 2010
4:42 pm

“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. I’ve also met well-educated Northern whites who were quite polite to me….but all wer sophmoric, moronic and insensitive boobs.”

Okay, you’ve covered both types of men, but have you ever met a stoic, underachieving fatalist who is impolitely beyond help?

guy

January 11th, 2010
4:54 pm

People should be able to say what they want and express their true feelings.No one said a word when people said bad things about George Bush. I bet Cynthia Tucker never commented on that.I think we all know who the spoons(people who stir up controversy) are. There is and always be racism and critism on both sides.There’s nothing that will ever change that.Cynthia,it is what it is so let it be. You and I can’t change it anyway!

HRPufnstuf

January 11th, 2010
4:57 pm

OK Cynthia, I think you sound pretty good without a Negro dialect.

Now, tell me if I’m racist or not! Can’t, can you? Because you don’t know yet if I vote Republican or Democrat!

Of COURSE good ole boy Harry isn’t a racist. He could even drive a pickup truck, sing Dixie, and wave a confederate flag, as long as he’s a Democrat, couldn’t he Cynthia?

ZingerKing.com

January 11th, 2010
5:02 pm

Of course its stupidity. Harry Reid is a Democrat. He has a critical role in getting health care done. We back him all the way. Now that Trent Lott. He was a Republican. And what he said about Strom Thurmond from 60 years ago has to be racist. He clearly had to be thrown out of his leadership role. Pass the sugar so I can sweeten the Kool Aid a little more.

MUSTANG100

January 11th, 2010
5:03 pm

So just WHEN is Tucker leaving the AJC anyway? That isn’t too insensitive a question, is it? If it is, then her Rebel Flag simile is just plain old barnyard leavings.

allen

January 11th, 2010
5:05 pm

Cindy, you are the biggest racist of all. Spewing your vitriol all over the most gullible and misinformed element of our society is basically cowardly and boring. We have tried to put up with your normal rantings, but it hasn’t worked. Please stay in Washington.

Donna

January 11th, 2010
5:47 pm

Reid is a stupid,old racist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Tom Middleton

January 11th, 2010
5:57 pm

Dave@4:11pm: Is this what Reid was talking about when he referred to “Negro dialect?”

But…but…but Dave, “ignert” is white dialect, get it? Oh nevermind!

OneFreeMan

January 11th, 2010
6:05 pm

It’s so sad…people falling all over themselves trying to excuse a bigoted comment. It’s even worse when “blacks” defend obvious bigoted comments by other “blacks”.

I would like to see political correctness in politics and business eliminated. Say what you want and discriminate with customers. Too many hypocrites are benefitting from PC.

MysteryMoves

January 11th, 2010
6:26 pm

The GOP racists seem a little upset. It’s tough not knowing the difference between right and wrong. Like Al Quati, you’ll have the after life for more education.

MysteryMoves

January 11th, 2010
6:45 pm

Cynthia, what were you expecting? This is the (RED) state of Georgia. These rednecks are still trying to fight the (forgotten loss) Civil War. When you have an IQ of 50 the only things that matters is your gun. So, they use the judicial system in every way possible to ensure guns can be carried on plane, church, kindergarten … wherever, or Palin Fox News subject matter expert to explain government death panels or Russian politics (seen from binoculars in Alaska). My point is that you can’t argue with a tree!! Stick to story’s that the rednecks can identify with like Bud – beer or dog!

get rid of reid

January 11th, 2010
7:05 pm

You folks defending Reid should check some of the other news sites for their polls. 67% of the people responding on MSNBC are calling for his resignation. That number is 92% on Foxnews.com. The majority obviously are offended.

DBCOOPER

January 11th, 2010
8:33 pm

wow!!!!! some about race in a Tucker column!

I find Avatar racist. I find Harry Reids comments racist. I find Trent Lotts comments racist. I find Joe Biden’s comments racist DEEP BREATH. I find Bill Clintons comments racist, I find Bugs Bunny’s comments racist. I find Jimmy “the greek’s” comments racist. I find Rush Limbaugh’s comments racist. DEEP BREATH, DEEP BREATH.I find everything ever muttered about a negro racist. Wait a minute is negro racist? I have no idea OH No! maybe it was racist !!! Oh no I’m so confused! wait a minute I have dark skin does that make it okay???

RJ

January 11th, 2010
8:50 pm

If a White person is walking in the woods alone and he says something, is he a racist?

Workingmom

January 11th, 2010
8:56 pm

I do not even take this stuff seriously anymore. The rule is if a Republican says it it’s racist, if a Dem says it it’s not. No one takes these charges seriously anymore.

Souljah

January 11th, 2010
9:01 pm

Cynthia, SISTA ! You ben hang’n wit whitey to long ! Cum on down to da ‘hood evry now n’ then, no whut Im say’n ?

Terrence Moore

January 11th, 2010
9:02 pm

The Caucazoid is inherently RACIST.

Workingmom

January 11th, 2010
9:06 pm

Let’s at least agree on what the definition of Racism is,

A BELIEF THAT SOME RACES ARE BY NATURE SUPERIOR TO OTHERS. Now we can debate.

Ce'phus

January 11th, 2010
9:09 pm

Lawd hab mercy da colored foke ar sho stir’red up oba dat ‘ol crack’r Harry Reid. Yowza, Yowza, Yowza.

Workingmom

January 11th, 2010
9:11 pm

Grectchen wrote

“when a Republican, we all know who he is, called the President of the U.S. a liar in front of the whole nation. So why was he not forced to step down.” So why was he not forced to step down.

Because we have the right to free speech and it was well documented that the President had lied about the subject in question.

C Tucker

January 11th, 2010
9:12 pm

If anyone knows “moronic behavior”, it is Cythina Tucker.

Logic

January 11th, 2010
9:14 pm

Let’s face it, the Democrats always get a pass on race comments.
It just part of the plantation management system.

Mjarman

January 11th, 2010
9:14 pm

Please, tell me what Reid said that was not true? Obama is light skinned and he can “sound black” when he wants to. Do you think Obama does not know he is light skinned and that he can tailor his dialect according to his audience? All you thin skinned folks, get over it!

Workingmom

January 11th, 2010
9:15 pm

Ediie wrote,

“Lott made a statement that was not true.”

Prove it. Quote Lott’s statement and then tell us what was not true. It is an opinion statement, Edward, it can’t be true or false. Holy Moly

C. Tucker

January 11th, 2010
9:18 pm

i don’t know nuin bout birthing babies or bout edtorals.

Workingmom

January 11th, 2010
9:19 pm

“Please, tell me what Reid said that was not true? Obama is light skinned and he can “sound black” when he wants to”

You are correct. The problem is that “some” were offended and that is not allowed in the US. See Article 17 of the US Const. Reps are mad, rightly so, because the media has a double standard.

For goodness sakes. Jeffers out of LA was caught with marked bills in his frezzer and still has not been asked to quite by his Party. Anything goes in the Democrat party in todays world.

not a CT fan

January 11th, 2010
9:35 pm

I don’t think he was being racist. But it may have been politically stupid for him to make that ciomment, even if it’s actually true. A former friend from Louisiana told me that darker skin blacks were discriminated against more than the lighter skinned blacks. But even within the white population, the better looking people (men or woman) and tall people seem to fare much better.

BPower

January 11th, 2010
9:41 pm

Racism or Stupidity Thats what I’ve been saying about Cynthia for years!

JHC54

January 11th, 2010
9:56 pm

Cynthia,

Thanks for putting this issue into its proper perspective. Reids remarks were taken out of context as he was praising President Obama’s qualifications for president. And the President understood that and accepted the apology.

Trent Lott’s comments were directed at how much better the country would be today if the old segregationist, Strom Thurmond, had been elected president in 1948. With statements like that and the Republican positions on civil rights, the voting rights act, and their desire to have federal election oversight of southern states end – why would any american trust the Republican party?