Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Harry Reid and the Black Man's Duplicity

By now, we've all heard about the Harry Reid controversy.
If not, here's a recap. The Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat, said some things off the record about Barack Obama's race. The words are published in a new book written about the last presidential race. Reid referred to Obama as "light skinned" and "with no Negro dialect." The remarks were made in "private conversations" during the campaign, according to the Washington Post. The comments implied that Reid believes that Obama's safe image gave him leverage for winning the presidency over past African-American prospective candidates.
Many republicans, most notably Michael Steele, have called for Reid's resignation citing double standards. Steele, the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee, believes that a Republican would have drawn more heat for the remarks. Some have even compared Reid's remarks to those of Trent Lott's. Reid has since apologized and Barack Obama has accepted.

Let's get one thing straight.
Reid's comments are hardly racist.
Maybe in poor taste but his remarks were in private. Reid only said what we all know to be true. President Obama had a better chance of being elected because of his non-threatening image. He is articulate and calm. He doesn't seem to be militant at all. Michelle Obama even came under fire for appearing to be an "angry black woman" so we know how important it is for black political figures to stay level headed.
Harry Reid has sparked a conversation that we need. When he spoke of Barack Obama's lack of Negro dialect, he added "unless he wants to". He acknowledged the tendency or necessity for Black Americans to play the game. To get ahead, many Black American's de-emphasize our blackness. Of course I know that it means different things to be black and we aren't a monolithic minded people. What I speak of is society's perception of "blackness". Most of us know someone who shortens his/her name or uses an initial on resumés instead of an ethnic name. Many of us also have a "professional" voice that is different than the voice we use among friends and family. Reid simply pointed out America's tendency to be more comfortable with a man or woman who seems less "black" and has qualities that whites can identify with. Black Americans often elect a form of duplicity to make it in life. I am not a dark skinned black man and I feel that I am rather articulate. I also don't speak in a "negro dialect" unless I want to.

What about Joe Biden's own comments about the same issue?
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden said. "I mean, that's a storybook, man." [source]

Was Jesse Jackson not "clean"? Biden is known for gaffs and he repeatedly survives. He is serving as Vice President under the same man he made those comments about.

Americans are cowards when it comes to race. We had years in which we violently collided in terms of the subject but now we would rather sweep it under the rug.
During Obama's campaign, he had to make a speech that no other presidential candidate has been prompted to make. The speech centered almost entirely around race and its role in American politics and everyday life.
This is what I hope part of Obama's legacy will be. Perhaps he could earn that Nobel Peace Prize. He can't ignore his population of color nor can he be the champion of those same people. He is a man. Not just a black man. In fact, he isn't a "black" man at all when it comes to true social definitions and backgrounds. He needs to help to persuade this nation to truly have a conversation about racism. The truth is that all of us say things that aren't necessarily politically correct when we are around our peers. No one is void of prejudice. We need to learn to embrace the differences and not be afraid of discussions about the issue of race. We live in a changing nation. Its a very different nation that it was years ago and its racial makeup is changing everyday due to miscegenation and immigration. Even if there were no more hate crimes and legal discrimination, we still need to understand each other in order to coexist.
We need to discuss the reasons why a person of color would feel the need to hide cultural associations in the first place.

[Check out this great CNN piece about Race Talk behind closed doors by CLICKING HERE]

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