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

radiowxman

January 11th, 2010
10:14 pm

Reid’s comment’s weren’t racist, just stupid.

He was much more racist when he essentially said that Clarence Thomas wasn’t smart enough to be a Supreme Court justice.

Bill Clinton was being racist when he (allegedly) told Ted Kennedy that Obama would have been serving them coffee if it had been several years ago.

His wife was being racist when, on the campaign, she cracked a joke about Gandhi running a mini-mart in St. Louis.

George Allen was being racist when he called someone “Macacca.”

3 of the 4 have active political careers. Wonder what the difference is?

Pecan

January 11th, 2010
10:22 pm

I have not read one comment on this blog. I will say that as we get to know one another “one on one” we find out that our biases and preconceived opinions about each other’s race, ethnicity, religion, etc., are wrong. Will we ever see another person without first looking at the color of their skin? There is a book I read once that said we all came from the same parents and were created by the same Being.

Pecan

January 11th, 2010
10:25 pm

Wow, now that I looked at couple, I’m glad I didn’t read this trash. I thought sports blogs were bad!

OBAMA

January 11th, 2010
10:34 pm

This is Michelle’s favorite. What is White foreplay? A. Drying the dishes!

Khrystal Ball

January 11th, 2010
10:47 pm

Ms Tucker, thank you for your post. It is exhausting to see the boorish mundane posts from people who just want to sling mud. They take the Reid remark (which I am on the fence about) and use it as though it was the fashion trend of the week. Its that tit for tat mentality that make commoners like me turn away from the MSM and the blogosphere because its shockingly devoid of real debate and analysis.

I am also flabergasted that Obama didnt use this opportunity to launch a Race in America theSequel to his earlier race speech. No it doesnt warrant a beer summit but both were extraordinary teachable moments and I dont understand why he missed an opportunity. Guess it didnt poll well.

Finally, I am nauseated by people (all hues) who think they are in the Right Fight if they club you like a baby seal because you made an insensitve comment. I wonder how some of these liberals are qualified to speak of the racialized diaspora or structural racism or the psychological impacts of America’s segregated history on people of color. I have been black all my life, studied AA studies, read countless pieces on the topic yet I dont hoist myself up as though I am the Racist police. You dont know what’s in someone’s heart, so dony judge. Teach. Dialogue. Debate – dont hate.

Soothsayer

January 12th, 2010
12:39 am

Cynthia, Obama would accept Reid or any other politician suggestion he is a “n word” if he thought it would move forward his agenda to socialize America. And you would join the president in his decision. Let us hope this is the straw that breaks the back of Reid in this year’s election and stops Obama’s destruction of America. Better yet let us home one democrat or independent senator will wake up and shoot the health bill right between it’s political eyes with a “No” vote.

Left wing management

January 12th, 2010
12:52 am

Sorry, but I have to respectfully take issue with you here, Cynthia Tucker. I believe that Peter Beinart is exactly right to say that for all its uncomfortableness, Reid’s statement was entirely TRUE and that we do ourselves a great disservice as a nation to simply recoil from looking soberly at such uncomfortable truths as these.

Incidentally, I’m quite surprised no one has noticed that this episode perfectly illustrates the truth of Michael Kinsley’s famous definition of a gaffe some years back as occurring not when a public figure speaks an untruth, but when he speaks a truth.

Robert

January 13th, 2010
1:52 pm

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

If he were white, he never would have been elected either!

Bobby

January 13th, 2010
1:54 pm

If he were white, he never would have been elected either!

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

JOHN ODD OWL

January 15th, 2010
3:59 am

Senator Harry Reed is “The Man”… He’s one “cool” Mormon. Any Man who can cajole 60 wayward Democrat Senators to get their ducks in a row and vote the same way on health care is “The Man” i want leading the Democrat controlled Senate. You Repuklicans are just envious because we Dems have Harry Reed and You Repuks have Ole Mitch McConnell. Johmmy Icksason will be forced into a primary race by a Tea Bag party candidate. It will open the door for a Democrat win.

Drizzit

January 20th, 2010
4:02 pm

Reid’s comments are the tip of the ice burg! He’s out of touch with us, and he stands above us like a king. He thinks he can do or say anything, and his fellow groupies are going down with him. You can’t save him by comparing him to someone else, or bashing Republicans.

Drizzit

January 20th, 2010
4:06 pm

Us TEA Baggers are driving the revolution, and every time you rant against us & slander our cause you add fuel to the flames. Reid is losing to every opposition candidate, and the rebels roll on.

Our Pal Harry | Blackinformant.com

January 26th, 2010
12:59 pm

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