Bored? Read some funny short stories at LIFE: A Handbook of What Not to do

Monday, January 11, 2010

An African American by any Other Name

Authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin this month released their new book Game Change in which they expose dirty laundry of politicians involved in the historic 2008 Presidential race. Several quotes from the controversial book have been dominating the headlines Monday morning, squelching reports coming out of the White House about jobs. Among the many disturbing quotes from Heilmann and Halperin's book, which include claims that Sarah Palin stated her V.P nomination was "Gods plan", were reports from anonymous sources which portrayed Senator Harry Reid and former President Bill Clinton as making racist remarks.

Former President Bill Clinton was quoted as saying (regarding now President Barack Obama) "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,". This remark was interpreted by many, as being a reference to Obamas skin color. While reports Al Sharpton as stating in an interview that President Clintons remarks were "disturbing", Rev. Sharpton gave an interview on MSNBC's morning show The Daily Rundown in which he stated that Clintons remarks would have been far worse if in fact the quote were accurate. In the Sharpton interview host Savannah Guthrie points out President Clintons statement was more likely regarding Obamas age, and that due to his youth, a few years ago he would have been a staffer fetching coffee.

The most popularly covered portion of the book was probably a statement made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) in which he said that Barrack Obama was the most viable candidate to be the nations first black President because he was "light-skinned" "with no Negro dialect".

Republicans have been comparing Senator Reid's remarks to the famed debacle in 2002 during Strom Thurmonds 100th birthday party in which Trent Lott spoke stating, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either." Strom Thurmond ran for President in 1948 as a segregationist. Soon after the speech was made, Lott resigned from the Senate. Rev. Al Sharpton says the comparison of Reids statement to Lotts speech was "an insult to the American public".

Senator Reid has apologized to President Obama for the statements he made in the book, and has similarly contacted African American leaders to make apologies as well. Obama and Rev. Sharpton have said they forgive Reid and want to put the incident behind them. Democrats seem to accept that Reid was not saying that he preferred Obama as a candidate because of the lightness of his skin or the dialect he spoke with, but rather that voters who may be uncomfortable with a non-white candidate would be more likely to vote for a black man with those traits.

The context of Senator Reids statement may not be offensive to some, but the use of the word negro may be difficult for most to fathom. Harry Reid was born in December of 1939, when the word negro was the most commonly accepted term in use. It wasn't until the late 1960's, when Reid was in his 20's, that because of the civil rights movement the term negro became associated with the long history of slavery and discrimination and was deemed a racial slur. Now the most acceptable terms in use are black or African American. The word negro can still be found in use in historical contexts such as in the name of The United Negro College Fund.

The ease in which many African Americans have forgiven Harry Reid may have been due to his long standing record of promoting and defending civil rights. In 2006 the NAACP rated Sen. Reid 96% in his stance on affirmative action. In 2009 the NAACP applauded Reid for his leadership and support in passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Reids voting record also includes: Voting YES on setting aside 10% of highway funds for minorities & women, voting NO on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, voting YES on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation, voting NO on banning affirmative action hiring with federal funds.

The fact remains that Game Change, regardless of the deeply personal and at sometimes trivial nature of its content, has left Americans with many questions that we each need to ask ourselves. Is giving a public speech stating that electing a President who supports segregation would have improved the U.S. a comparable offense to using antiquated racial terminology in a private conversation remarking that a black man with light skin and an ethnically neutral dialect may be more palatable to American voters? Does forgiveness from a handful of prominent African Americans constitute an absolution from the entire black community, or is offending even one person, one person too many? Is a slip of the tongue, even with the best of intentions, unforgivable? Does a long standing record of supporting civil rights define a man, or can a single sentence reveal a persons true nature? The truth is that no one can know for sure what is in another persons heart no matter how much research is done or how many interviews are conducted. We can only hope for the best in people, but sadly more often than not, we assume the worst.

No comments:

Post a Comment