Right wing blogs are steaming as Michael Steele, National GOP Chair, waved the racism banner saying that Harry Reid should step down as Senate Democratic Leader over alleged racial remarks he made during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, in which Reid speculated that Obama’s “electability” would potentially be enhanced by his skin color (“light-skinned”) and diction, in which he detected “no Negro dialect.”
Steele compares Reid’s comments to those made by Trent Lott, which resulted in his resignation, wherein Lott said that if America had supported the openly racist Strom Thurmond, the nation would be better off. Thurmond’s leadership of the then “Dixiecrats,”once said “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.” Thurmond’s resistance to Civil Rights and contempt for African Americans were both legendary and contradictory, as a mixed-race daughter of Thurmond’s came forth after he died to tell her story.
Reid’s comments were certainly insensitive regarding race, as his anachronistic use of “Negro” in relation to dialect to suggest that Barack’s speech is devoid of regionalisms, mannerisms or patterns associated with African Americans. Having studied speech, I was taught to listen for nuances that differentiate dialects. These are the very differences one uses to learn them. Recognition of them doesn’t make one is racist. To say that a “light-skinned” black free of speech affectations traditionally associated with African Americans is potentially more electable than a stereotypical urban black is certainly not an observation an astute politician should make but is it as racist as Trent Lott claiming that America’s electing a known racist as its president would have solved our nation’s problems? I think that’s a stretch.
Historically speaking, “negro” was a respectful term until the late 60’s. Martin Luther King used “negro” frequently. Harry Reid is an older fellow. While this doesn’t excuse, him, “negro” is a far cry among his contemporaries from the insult of other monikers, slang or not. My point is, while anachronistic, “negro” isn’t “nigger” (or anything close). There’s also a broad gap between candor and hate speak. I feel that Reid’s words are the former, not the latter–but I’m a middle-aged white guy.
I don’t approve of Reid’s comments. They were careless and ill-advised. But are they racist? Are they inflammatory? I don’t know. I do know that his record shows no sign of racism. If a prominent African American had made them, I doubt that there’d be such a dust-up
All people of color aren’t the same shade. Relative saturation on the Grey Scale can be an identifying factor and any sociologist will tell you that traditionally, the affects and intensity of racism becomes more pronounced when skin tone leaves little or no ambiguity about one’s descent. African Americans are very open about differentiating among themselves by “shade” as a means of identification. It’s also common in law enforcement.
I think Steele’s and others indignation on this subject is insincere and manipulative. If Steele wants to find racism, he need look no farther than his own party and in my opinion, the only thing steaming in this story is what Mike Steele’s full of.