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Reid “Code-switches”

January 11, 2010

This whole controversy with Reid is a little strange. There is a lot of support among democrats and liberals for his “thank-god-obama-is-not-that-black” comment.

I hear that being outraged over Reid’s remarks is naive, because what he said was true. He just used “indelicate” language and talking about racism does not make you a racist. Huh?

I think a lot of this response is because of the Republican Party’s (in particular Michael Steele) slimy opportunism. And I agree that the comparisons between Reid and Lott are foolish. But was Reid’s statement racist? Of course, it was.

Reid was not deploring the condition of race relations in America. He was not crying over how a dark-skinned person who spoke black English could not get elected. What he was doing, was sighing with relief that Obama was a ‘light-skinned’ black person who could talk properly. When Obama got elected, one of the many reasons that many of us were giddy with joy was because America delivered on her promise that anyone can be anything they want to be if they worked really hard and were really smart. And hearing a heavy-weight politician essentially say, that Obama won because he could hide his ethnicity well enough, is more than a little “indelicate”. It’s offensive and embarrassing.

The only one reason to give the man a pass is because he made those statements in private. People talk all kinds of nonsense in their private lives, everyone does. I’d buy that.

Here’s a clip of Reid explaining himself in typical Reid-ish blandness. He lists all the Important Black People who have forgiven him. And he talks about all the stuff he has done for diversity.

What I wish he had said was this:  “If Obama was darker, America would have still elected him. My words were not only poor, but also false.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2010 11:47 pm

    I think you’re misunderstanding a lot of the responses as well as Reid’s quote. A big part of Obama’s winning the White House was predicated on not scaring white people. That’s pretty annoying/disheartening from a strict anti-racist point of view, but it’s the political reality. If Obama spoke with Sharpton’s churchified cadence, he would never have been taken seriously. Reid’s quote, even with his unfortunate employment of “Negro,” is a realistic recognition of the attitudes that Obama would face.

    Obama’s ability to code-switch is something millions of black folks do all the time. I don’t talk to my friends/family the way I speak with my co-workers. I pepper my out-of-work speech with slang, drop my g’s, soften my long I’s to “ah’s”. Obama’s ability to speak in the vernacular undoubtedly served him well in Chicago, just as his ability to play down that accent served him well on the Harvard Law Review and in Springfield.

  2. January 12, 2010 12:05 am

    Would it have been more racist if Reid had said, “I would not have supported Obama if he was darker skinned, or if he spoke more “black”?

    Because what I am arguing is that…. that’s pretty much what he did say.

    I understand that millions of black folks probably code-switch all the time. My point is that Reid certainly was not coming from the perspective of someone who understands that reality. My problem is that his words are construed as some sort of insight into black people’s realities, when in truth, Reid was not being insightful or real.

    And I disagree, I don’t believe that a big part (?) of Obama’s campaign was “predicated on not scaring white people”. That becomes very thin, very quickly. And I am not even sure what that means, exactly.

    • January 14, 2010 11:01 am

      But that’s actually not what he said at all. What he was saying was that the fact that he was those things made him more electable. If Obama spoke like Jesse Jackson, he would never have gotten the nomination.

      And I disagree, I don’t believe that a big part (?) of Obama’s campaign was “predicated on not scaring white people”. That becomes very thin, very quickly. And I am not even sure what that means, exactly.

      It seems like you’re misremembering the campaign. In the history of the United States, there has never been a black American on a major party ticket. Axelrod and Co. have said that Obama had to assuage the fears of wary white voters. As popular as Obama proved in some of the early primary states, there were fears inside the campaign that he would not be able to win over white voters away from the coasts. They actively avoided talking about race, only mentioning it obliquely (security was beefed up around Obama because of “the historic nature of the campaign”) until Rev. Wright forced his hand. Obama had to avoid drawing attention to the race thing if he had a chance — which is exactly why it was important that he could effectively code-switch, and exactly why it wasn’t insignificant that he was light-skinned.

      (You could prove me wrong, and point me to a elected black official with a national profile who is dark-skinned. Cory Booker? Harold Ford Jr.? Deval Patrick? I could go on.)

      • January 14, 2010 1:42 pm

        See, I am not saying you are not correct. My argument is not that dark-skinned people are elected all the time, or that Obama’s campaign would not have been different “if he spoke like Jesse Jackson”.

        I am saying that Reid did not mean to say those things. At all. I think Reid was being racist. (In fact, there is a possibility that he wasn’t simply overheard. He might have actually sat down with two reporters and said this knowing he might be quoted. That makes it so much worse.)

        I imagine what it would be like if someone said that about me. I would not be saying, “well, the man understands the sociological implications of being a person of colour in America. Good for him.” Maybe his statements were just tactless. Tactless about race? Isn’t that the same as his statements being racist?

        Yes, I had already seen your post on colorism. It was excellent.

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