Saturday, January 09, 2010

Reid isn't the villian here - Updated

I expect I'll be sorry I jumped into this one, but I'm just not getting the outrage here:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apologized Saturday following reports he had privately described then-candidate Barack Obama during the presidential campaign as a black candidate who could be successful thanks in part to his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reported the remarks in their new book “Game Change,” which was purchased by CNN Saturday at a Washington-area bookstore. The book is slated for official release next Tuesday.
The way I'm looking at this is Harry Reid is a highly placed political operative. He's privately discussing the prospects of prospective candidates. Is there a politically correct way to express a perfectly true assessment? Let's be real people. If Obama was a dark-skinned black who talked like some rapper fresh from the ghetto, he wouldn't have had a prayer. It was a valid observation, made without malice.

Nothing would make me happier than to get rid of Reid. I think he's useless as majority leader and we have plenty of better talent in the Senate that could do a better job of running the ship. But it's not like Reid was making a speech to the Rotary Club. It was a private remark. Seems to me the outrage should be directed at Halperin and Heilemann for publicly disclosing a private conversation for personal profit. They have to have known that in today's political climate it would generate a huge buzz that will draw PR for their book.

And by the way, the trash talking GOPers can bite me. Who the hell are they to be calling for Reid to apologize? Let them apologize for every lie they told and the last decade of hell they put us through first.

Update: Mark Kleiman basically says the same thing I did, only with much fancier language. To be clear, I don't think anyone disputes that the phrasing and the mindset of the remark is offensive in terms of how little progress we've made in becoming a color-blind society, but Reid is just not a villian here. As much as I would like to see him taken down, I would prefer it to be because of an acknowledgement that he is inept, ineffective as a leader and compromised by corporate interests. Taking him down with this ginned up media kerfluffle feels like a win for the GOP and the Village idiots, rather than for enlightened thought to me.

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Blogger MartiniCocoa said...

you bring up a good point
If Obama was a dark-skinned black who talked like some rapper fresh from the ghetto, he wouldn't have had a prayer. It was a valid observation, made without malice.

and you are right.
so let's take a look at Sarah Palin and ask why she was allowed to have a shot at VP with her inherent limitations (i.e. good for Alaska, not the national stage)

And no it's not Reid's job to proffer fair and balanced opinions on how blacks and whites are perceived but that's where the wrinkle comes in when
life is lived in black and white

The kind of black person you describe would never be considered for national office but the kind of white person Sarah Palin is was.

4:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Marcellina said...

I admit I haven't been looking very hard, but I have yet to learn the context in which Halperin quotes Reid. Not to defend Halperin, but it seems the press leapt on the "Reid said 'negro'!!!!!" wagon very quickly. Just as Reid was making an assessment, was Halperin just stating this assessment? Or was he trying to agitate? I ask because you know more about his writing than I do.

5:24:00 AM  
Blogger said...

... on top of which, this happened a year or so ago?

Can I just say how much I resent having to spend the next week discussing the freaking 2008 election? AGAIN? All because Mark Halperin is trying to sell his book? Am I the only one who wants to move the heck on already?

Our media has become so self-absorbed.

10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Star, sadly we still have a double standard in the US for whites and people of all other colors and also between Dems and GOPers, among other things. Can only hope this changes as the next generation grows up and takes over the gears of power.

Marcellina, I've been trying to figure out the context too. I've read a few posts and followed the tweets and the info is a bit sketchy. If making the remark public actaully advances the narrative in some legitimate way, I'd take back my criticism of Halperin. But the impression I'm getting so far is the book is pretty much a long form gossip column and it appears to contain more incendiary remarks by other well known pols. Saw a tweet just before I went to bed where he quotes Bill Clinton saying something more overtly racist. Something like Obama would have been serving coffee to the white folks only a few years earlier. Presuambly also a remark not intended for public consumption. Also saw a couple of people already challenging the veracity of the book's content generally.

In any event, much as it pains me, I have to defend Reid. Even for using the Negro reference. That was the politically correct term to use when I was a kid and Reid is really old. Within the limited context of his privately discussing Obama's potential as a candidate, I tend to doubt he meant it as a slur.

10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

SoBeale, that's the other ridiculous part of the whole kerfluffle. It was a private remark made in 2008. I see a lot of lefties demanding to know why he didn't apologize sooner who don't seem to notice it was a remark never intended to be made public. Once again the media invents a fake controversy that serves no apparent purpose that I can see but trash Dems and build buzz for Halperin's book. Too many people buying into their narrative. It's sad and annoying.

10:13:00 AM  
Blogger rockync said...

I do have a probelm with Harry Reid and anyone else who uses race-centric language.
Could he have not said something along the lines of "and he is intelligent and articulate."?
Was the "Negro" comment even necessary? I think not.
I have no patience for the GOPers putting Harry's feet to the fire, they are a bunch of hypocritical, racist bastards just looking to stir the pot any way they can but, for us, this should be a "teachable moment" where we step back and look at our own perceptions.
We will never achieve racial equality unless we remove the words and change our thoughts.
I long for the day a future generation hears the word Negro and says, "What's that?"

1:33:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

I agree the remark is offensive on a lot of levels, but I'm also old enough to remember when Negro was the politically correct term used to refer to black people and Reid is a lot older than me. I just don't see how it can interpreted as a slur. It was simple statement of fact, no matter how ineptly put. He was presuambly discussing Obama's potential -- in private. That's key.

Besides, who among us hasn't said something in private that they wouldn't want repeated in public?

I would be thrilled to see Reid taken down, but would prefer it to be because of an acknowlegement that he is inept and ineffective as a leader, not for some ginned up media kerfluffle.

2:23:00 PM  
Blogger JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

Sensitivity has gotten to the point of ridiculous. s you said Libby, who hasn't said something insensitive. The winners in this nonsense are the true bigots. Because misguided do gooder is so ready to jump on the race accuser bandwagon, we're all racists.

I felt guilty if I laughed at some of Richard Pryor's comedy years ago. Now? Screw that. Chris Rock is funny.

10:33:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

That's it Truth. No one has the right not to be offended by other's speech and I think it's counterproductive when people get the vapors over every random remark. It doesn't change the underlying dynamic that really is offensive and I think in some cases just cements the dynamic because it comes off as whining.

10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

"We will never achieve racial equality unless we remove the words and change our thoughts."

I do disagree. Euphemisms are a way to hide thoughts and all my observations tell me that the reliance on them makes things worse, drives them into private petrie dishes where they fester and ferment. Telling the same racist jokes using "African American" doesn't defuse them a bit and the same goes for Mexican jokes, Polish jokes and Jew jokes.

My favorite example of is the Chinese language which for thousands of years has had no gender pronouns - his, hers, and its are all the same word, yet it's been a very male dominated culture since the stone age.

It's only a matter of moments until the euphemism, said with a sneer or a wink, becomes the next forbidden word anyway. We've already taken it to laughable extremes - people insist it's bad to say Jew and twist their tongues around "member of the Jewish Community" -- something which doesn't exist anyway. I don't belong to any special community and I can't imaging being offended by being called a Jew. (just watch your tone) :-)

All the "native Americans" I know don't resent the word Indian any more than those from Uttar Pradesh and whether you call me a Jew or Jewish or a hebe - it's the tone and the source and the context that make it offensive.

Suppression of words simply never has worked and it never will. The oldest words in our language are those we seek to repress - some go back to ancient Egyptian - and besides we all have the capacity to tell an insult from an honest description.

Education and experience do far more to fight racism than anything else. I certainly don't need some professor in a bubble somewhere to tell me whether I'm being insulted or not and I don't think Barak Obama does either.

If future generations don't recognize the Spanish and Portuguese word for black that's not a good thing, IMO. My hope is that we become comfortable enough about each other that we can speak comfortably about each other and not have to worry about making up stilted and ridiculous euphemisms. All that accomplishes is to perpetuate the idea that race is a terribly dangerous thing to treat rationally and must always stand in the way of friendship and trust.

But should the man have said "African American" dialect? That's probably more accurate since dialect is about culture, not race, but let's not pretend there aren't accents and speech patterns -- even dialects shared by ethnic groups. That's the problem with euphemy - it hides the truth and anything kept hidden must be frightening.

11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

I've never liked African American as a label. Not every black or brown person is of African descent for one thing. I wish for a day when we don't indentify as anything other than fellow humans. Seems unlikely to happen. Most people I think take comfort from a group identity. And the point on intent is the main thing. Voice inflection is everything. Maybe we invent all these euphemisms because we can't convey that on the internet and so much of our communication is electronic now.

3:47:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Old Teddy Roosevelt once said he was tired of hyphenated Americans and wished we'd all just consider ourselves just Americans. I can't disagree all that much. That was a hundred years ago and he was talking more about European immigrants, but we're still doing that. I don't worry about it, but these things have divided us too long.

Being certifiable as a paranoid, I do see it as just another part of a big plot to divide us so that we can't fight back.

But just to beat that dead horse again, taboo words survive because they are taboo. George Carlin's 7 forbidden words have begun slowly to be more acceptable only because we don't take offense so easily any more. ( despite the 2003 Republican attempt to outlaw them)

It's not that I await the return of the "N" word, I don't, but maybe in a thousand years or so people will stop wanting to use it because it doesn't make sense? one can hope we can just all get along and we have made terrific progress although we don't realize it. Read stuff from the 30's and it would make your skin crawl no matter what color it is.

5:05:00 PM  
Blogger rockync said...

Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of dropping words and changing how we perceive others as going hand in hand.
You can drop words but as long as it is acceptable among some circles to tell racist jokes, etc, then the perceptions remain the same.
But if more of the next generation were raised without ever hearing these names and remarks would not perceptions be changed?
And if this persisted for several generations, the offensive language would become obsolete.

5:32:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

So true. You look at stuff from the 30s and realize how far we've come really.

8:58:00 AM  

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