Monday, January 11, 2010

Harry Reid's 'Negro' problem

From a blog at
the London Guardian:

Now comes the big Harry Reid controversy. I won't defend Reid's use of the word "Negro" in a quote in 2008 while observing that Barack Obama seemed electable to him because he was "light-skinned" and and could turn said dialect on and off as he pleased.

Using that word isn't defensible. He deserves criticism for it.

But this Republican posturing is just beyond belief, except that it isn't because they're so capable of anything. Naturally, they moved to compare Reid's comment to
those made by Trent Lott a few years ago.


It then turned out that Lott had longstanding ties to at least one southern group with a starkly racist history. But even if the apologias were real, they are morally obtuse and illegitimate. It would be like a Frenchman saying I support Jean-Marie Le Pen because of his tax policy.

Reid was making a strategic political assessment of how the American public would perceive a particular African American candidate. No one can possibly say with a straight face that there's any remote connection between the two.


Sigh. More meaningless political theater to distract us from things that matter.

Yes, Reid was foolish, but, unlike the Guardian blogger excerpted above, I don't think he really did much worse than stick his foot in his mouth. This other n-word just isn't the same thing as the n-word referred to by the great defense attorney F. Lee Bailey when he was nailing racist LAPD detective Mark Furhman to the wall during the OJ Simpson trial. It was never used by slave owners to oppress an entire race. It still exists in acceptable usage today under very specific circumstances, such as the endless replay of Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches every January, or as part of the name for civil rights organizations and institutions that existed before the 1970s, like the United Negro College Fund. For that matter, I heard
an NPR piece a few days ago about how the US Census is putting this other n-word on forms this year because the last time around some 50,000 people opted to write it in rather than checking the more commonly used "African American" or "Black."

I mean yeah, the other n-word is antiquated and close enough to the clearly racist n-word that white people ought to be really careful in this day and age with how they use it, but Senator Reid's usage of the term just isn't
a Michael Richards moment. The Democrats, pretty much all the way around, have handled the situation well.

Republicans, on the other hand, continue to turn tragedy into farce, then back to tragedy, then back to farce. Then maybe back to tragedy again. Democrats, who controlled neither the House or the Senate at the time, simply criticized Lott for his support of segregationist Strom Thurmond: it was
Bush loyalists who actually forced him out of his Senate leadership position, using the controversy as a moment of opportunity.

I mean, demanding Reid's resignation for this is just silly, especially when you consider that Republicans, who have shamelessly used
coded rhetoric to court the votes of angry white racists in the South since the late 60s, just don't give a shit about black people. Why would they care at all if a Democrat used a racially charged term? Answer: there is no reason because the GOP is racist.

No, this is a non-issue blown up into bullshit political theater, just because that's what the Republicans are good at. Actually, I'm kind of annoyed that I even feel compelled to write about it. At any rate, I hope this story dies. Tomorrow. But I wouldn't be surprised if it lingered for a week or two more. After all, the corporate news media are fucking stupid.