Monday, January 11, 2010

One Exceptional Negro

As reported in the Washington Post, according to the authors of Game Change, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “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.”

After this statement was revealed, Sen. Reid issued the following apology. "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans, for my improper comments." In addition, he called President Obama and apologized. In response, Obama stated, "I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years. I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

Democrats such Congressman James Clyburn, former Congressman Harold Ford and even activists like Rev. Al Sharpton accepted Reid’s apology. The Congressional Black Caucus is issued a weak press release regarding the issue. On the Today Show, in an accommodating manner, Ford simply described Reid’s statement as “unusual”, and Gwen Ifill asserted that Reid's statement was not demeaning. Attempting to excuse Reid’s statement, Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine contended that the statement was made in the context of praising Obama’s candidacy for president. Similar to Joe Biden’s gaffe referring to Obama as the first clean and articulated African American presidential candidate, Reid’s condescending praise of Obama is an insult to the African American community.

Basically, Reid said that Obama is an exceptional Negro. In other words, he is not like most Black people. He implied that Obama is an honorary white person. In essence, the Senator alluded to the notion that a lighter complexion is superior or preferable to a darker one. Unfortunately, such sentiments may reflect the opinions of many white voters who helped elect President Obama. Obama was raised by his Caucasian mother and grandparents. His background made it easier for white voters to identify with him. It would have been more difficult for white voters to identify with him if had a darker complexion and was raised by Black parents.

Furthermore, Reid insinuated that it was an extraordinary feat for an African American politician to speak standard proper English. He used the antiquated segregation era term “Negro” to imply that most African Americans only speak Ebonics. Furthermore, Reid insulted Obama by suggesting that Obama is a phony who can pretend to be Black when necessary.

Although the book may be closed for Obama and the Democrats, it remains open for the African American community. This is not a Democratic Party or Republican Party issue. While I appreciate Sen. Reid's demonstrated commitment to social justice, his record should not serve as a basis to excuse his racist statement. It is extremely disappointing that no prominent African American politicians or organizations have strongly condemned the Senator’s racist comments. Where is your heart? How many more apologies will the President accept?

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