Sen. Harry Reid Sets Off Race Discussion with 2008 Remarks

Monday, January 11, 2010

In "Game Change," a book about the 2008 presidential campaign being released today, the authors report that Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's

encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Reid's words have drawn a flurry of criticism from RNC Chairman Michael Steele and other politicians who compare the statement to Sen. Trent Lott's 2002 assertion that if the country had voted for segregationist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years." Here to help unpack coded racial statements and point out those sitting in plain view are Omar Wasow, contributor to The Root, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor for The Atlantic, and author of “The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood.”


Ta-Nehisi Coates and Omar Wasow

Comments [5]


Late in the game here, but...what was racist about what he said? He merely pointed out that other people are racist.

I wondered the same thing: were there people who would not have voted for him had he not been half white? We know--because we discussed it during the campaign, and I believe on The Takeaway, no less--that there are people who would not vote for him because he was (partly) black. Just as there were people who would not vote for Hillary because she was a woman. It was fine to acknowledge that fact then but not now??

Jan. 15 2010 09:57 AM
Keeana Saxon

con't. I am an African-American woman who was raised by parents from the South. They taught me to speak proper English (that is, to use standard pronunciation, to exercise accurate word choices and to have excellent grammar). They taught me to speak proper English to honor my ancestors who weren’t taught to read, write, or speak properly. They taught me to speak proper English to honor my grandmother who only had a 3rd grade education, but who worked hard on her knees as a domestic to make sure my mother received four post-graduate degrees. The intonation, resonance, rhythm of my voice may modulate given my audience, but I will never, ever sound “White.” It’s just not possible, for I am Keeana.

Jan. 11 2010 06:37 PM
Keeana Saxon

There seems to be still a lack of understanding about what Black people should sound like and what language Black people should speak. Why haven’t all of us learned by now that the “Black voice” is not monolithic, but is as varied as our skin color? The Take Away’s discussion this morning was too simplistic; the analysis was not sufficiently nuanced.

In my LAY OPINION the “sound” of one’s voice has several factors: intonation, resonance, pronunciation, rhythm, word choice, and grammar. Sometimes I can distinguish a White person’s voice from a Black person’s voice based on one or more of these factors. An unequal education, systemic poverty, lack of exposure--problems all undergirded by racism and oppression-- has a disparate and negative impact on the language some Black people can speak.

Jan. 11 2010 06:36 PM
In additon to above

Reid’s comment was not so much offensive as it was revelatory. His words speak for a large % of all Americans. Being a young, Caribbean-American woman who speaks English properly, I find this topic disconcerting. R’s comment is really a critique on the global misperception of #1Speech & #2Color amongst Black/Caribbean/African Americans (our 2 most defining & misunderstood characteristics).
I struggle/chuckle daily when confronted with this glaringly-ignorant notion that ALL black people emerge from their mothers’ wombs predisposed to speaking a “Negro dialect”/"Black English.” It is an insult to all black people, especially those raised by parents who’ve upheld strong family values, sound morals, good education, and who have fostered a positive self-image and a sense of self-worth.
However, there IS such a thing as Improper English--which transcends race. It's a direct reflection on education/opportunity. It's a subconsciously-learned/passive-aggressive attempt at social rebellion.

Jan. 11 2010 02:53 PM
Veronica Barrow

My Take-Away:
#1-Speech: Everyone leans it (whether properly or improperly) from their daily surroundings. No one is genetically predisposed to speaking "Negro Dialect." It's the individual's (poor, uneducated) choice to do so.
#2-Skin color: Whether dark or light skinned brown, the degree of pigment has nothing to do with how better or worse an individual is perceived. Rather, it’s the individual's understanding of his/her self-worth, level of education, and presentation of him/herself.

Jan. 11 2010 02:40 PM

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