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January 11th, 2010
02:54 PM ET

Was Harry Reid right?

Omar Wasow
The Root

The Senate majority leader has apologized for his remarks about race and color, but he was simply being honest about how voters react to skin color.

CNN is aflutter. Bloggers are calling it a "big-time" mistake. Newspapers describe the "racially tinged" remarks as "sensational." What is this "juicy revelation"? Apparently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid privately told two journalists in 2008 that Obama was more electable because he's "light-skinned" and lacked a "Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

With the publication of Reid's impolitic quote in the new book Game Change, journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have landed a PR coup. By revealing Reid's racial faux pas, they've also set in motion the now tediously familiar process of a media frenzy, an inevitable apology from Reid acknowledging "deep regret," and an equally inevitable gracious acceptance of the said apology from Obama.

Lost in all the handwringing and shock, however, is any clear explanation of what's wrong with Reid's comment. Clearly, using "Negro dialect" is about half-a-century behind the times, but does anyone think Reid meant ill by his anachronism? Moreover, as the recent kerfuffle about the 2010 Census revealed, "Negro" is still used by a non-trivial number of older black folks. In 2000, for example, more than 50,000 people went the extra effort of writing-in that they identified themselves as "Negro" (over-and-above the millions who checked the box for "Black, African-Am., or Negro").

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soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Sara

    He is absolutely right tho he did not have to use the N word. Honestly president Obama won coz of his light skin colour (mixed) no doubt about it. No matter how much we (black people and light skin people) love the president but that's the truth.

    January 11, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  2. Alfred Henry

    Anderson; look the President has a lot on is plate and he has spoken: He said sticks and stone may break my bones, but words can never harm me. And I think the country should just move on. The fact of the matter is, what poor old dirty Harry said, is not a criteria for the presidency. What I don’t hear no body saying is that it was his education that put him in the position he is in today.

    January 11, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  3. magali

    i feel if the man was racist he would never have made that comment.
    Much to do about nothing.
    The negro reference is probably due to the time Reid grew up . a Black person was a negrothen the man is not 20 years old.
    I somewhat agree with the president. But, I would rather talk about what my recent college graduate (black, negro/ african american )daughter can do to pay her student loans and her $450 a month Cobra insurance
    Let's move on people .

    January 11, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  4. quinton

    harry reid's comments were very offensive and it just goes to show that there ie still a lot of progress we need to make.

    January 11, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  5. Alice

    Yes.. and many African Americans know that as well. Thats why the only ones blowing the horns are the racist republicans. Its' not just politics but you see it on the news everyday.

    How many times did Joe Scarsborough " Morning Joe" use the term "negro dielect" this morning? Answer; 12 times or more

    He seemed to be enjoying using it today. How many times is he going to use it tomorrow? Answer; At least 10 times or more

    January 11, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  6. danny orton

    if president barack obama says it time to forward than i think we should all make an effort to do so

    January 11, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
  7. Michelle R.

    Reid may be on the right side of Civil Rights and have significant democratic support still, his remarks make me cringe. People of various backgrounds can and do have these conversations among themselves, but this is unacceptable rhetoric for a prominent politician to carelessly fling about.

    Unfortunately in these situations all we can do is accept his apology and move on. I have to agree with Michael Steele though there is a clear double standard in this case. Besides, what kind of message are we sending children when we say you can only become president if you are light skinned and have exceptional oratory skills?

    January 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  8. Mike in NYC

    Everything Reid said was true.

    The truth is no defense, apparently.

    January 11, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  9. Tim Gibson

    Open mouth and insert foot, we all have those moments. To much effort is being made into reading more into this "comment" than it is due.

    January 11, 2010 at 4:07 pm |