Talking About What Harry Reid Said Without Talking About What Harry Reid Said:
In a 1995 New Yorker interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colin Powell listed the reasons that he was more palatable a black candidate to white Americans than, say, Jesse Jackson: "One, I don't shove it in their face, you know? I don't bring any stereotypes or threatening visage to their presence. Some black people do. Two, I can overcome any stereotypes or reservations they have, because I perform well. Third thing is, I ain't that black." And he added, "I speak reasonably well, like a white person." He later clarified to another audience, "I am not that black as a physical matter."
Powell was stating the obvious: white Americans were more comfortable with Powell because of the shade of his skin. Now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the same obvious thing about the continuing pathetic state of race in America. The actual quote from the book is a broken up couple of phrases that may have been cobbled together, but here it is: Reid "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."
What in there is racist? It's okay to talk about race as a factor in the election. That's not racism. How many people used up gigabytes and ink to talk about the role race was playing in the 2008 election? In fact, Reid was actually more optimistic about Americans' ability to deal with voting for a black president than many on the left were. The Rude Pundit was told numerous times that Obama couldn't be elected because he was black. All Reid said was, more or less, that "Jay-Z couldn't get elected president, but Will Smith might," which, if you didn't realize that about America, you're an idiot or an opportunist, or you're in deep, deep denial.
Let's not be cute or coy about the phrase "Negro dialect," as Joe Scarborough was on Morning Starbucks on MSNBC today. Joey the Scar delighted in asking his guests what a "Negro dialect" was, as if we don't all know. Sure, sure, we can pretend and get huffy and defensive and say, "Why, all black people talk differently," but the second you read or heard the phrase, you knew exactly what Harry Reid was talking about. And that also says something about American racism, that we (whites, especially) can't get beyond the ingrained stereotypes that afflict our perceptions.
There's a fuck of a lot of great candidates who couldn't get elected because of their dialects, even if it doesn't seem to affect white males who run for office (although, elected as they were, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter still had to deal with hick stereotyping that placed them as outsiders). And as for any inability to use the English language, George W. Bush fucked up more sentences than Lil' Wayne on a pre-prison bender. So Reid was right to tie it to race. The word "Negro" is outdated and old-fashioned, sure, but Reid is 70, and, even if now they call themselves "UNCF," the United Negro College Fund still exists. And if Reid had said "black," it wouldn't have changed a goddamn thing about the reaction.
For this is manna from racial heaven for Republicans. They'll use it to whip up some kind of frenzy to demonstrate they care about black people, despite a century or so of demonstrating otherwise in action instead of words. Michael Steele will bark madly, and Newt Gingrich won't be called to task for also stating the obvious, too, when he said, "Michael Steele makes a number of old-time Republicans very nervous," specifically citing "he's African-American" as one of those nerve-wracking factors. They'll talk about Trent Lott until they realize it just reminds everyone of how much Republicans work against African Americans.
Eventually, we'll reach a critical mass of black people who have forgiven Reid. And Joey the Scar will realize he's spent enough time giving free publicity to a book by two of his regular morning guests. All of this will happen without any actual reflection on a nation that does still judge people by the shade of the color of their skin. There is a discussion to be had here. It is not whether or not Harry Reid is a racist.
Mostly, the Rude Pundit's sure, nearly ever American not invested in bloggery or media or Nevada politics is thinking, "Why is this a fucking story I should give a shit about?" And the sad answer is that they shouldn't, but they should.