Guest Editorial
Harry Reid

By Ward Connerly | January 20, 2010

| More

ward connerlyAs if the Senate Majority Leader didn’t have enough on his plate trying to find sufficient cash to buy sixty votes for his health care reform package, a race controversy has now enveloped him.

In their new book, “Game Change,” journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann report remarks made by Reid in an interview about Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.

In referring to Obama, Mr. Reid is quoted as saying that he believed the nation was ready to elect a “light-skinned” black man “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

When confronted with what he had said, Mr. Reid commented: “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.”

Mr. Reid predictably followed the conventional path of personally calling President Obama and a handful of presumed leaders of the “African-American community” – Messrs. Julian Bond, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, among them – to beg forgiveness for his racial sin.
And, to no one’s surprise, all of those to whom apologies were extended responded by accepting Mr. Reid’s apology and saying that the nation had more important issues to deal with, such as health care and national security.

As I have followed this incident and its coverage by the media and the captains of the “African-American community,” I cannot help but be reminded of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who made remarks that were praiseworthy of Strom Thurmond and which many blacks and pundits viewed as insensitive.

When Mr. Lott’s controversy erupted, he apologized repeatedly and sincerely to one and all, even groveling on Black Entertainment Network – all to no avail. The “African-American community” was unforgiving and persisted in demanding that he either resign from his position or be removed. In the end, they got what they wanted.

When Rush Limbaugh wanted to buy into the St. Louis Rams, many of the same individuals who instantly accepted the apology of Mr. Reid expressed outrage over statements that there is no evidence of Mr. Limbaugh ever even making and demanded that his participation in the bid be rejected. Ultimately, they got what they wanted.

It is certainly true that racial incidents are not created equal. What one individual finds offensive may not be to another. Thus, the words of Mr. Lott may have been more “insensitive” to some than the comments of Mr. Reid. Nonetheless, the spirit of forgiveness should be universal. But, I guess that doesn’t apply to conservatives and Republicans.
For my part, I am having a difficult time determining what it was that Mr. Reid said that was so offensive.

Was it because he suggested that lighter-skinned blacks fare better in American life than darker ones? If so, ask any black whether they find this to be true. Even the lighter skinned ones, if they are honest with themselves, will agree that there is a different level of acceptance. This is, fortunately, a changing dynamic in our nation, but it has been true throughout our history.

Was it because he used the politically incorrect term “Negro?” If so, it should be noted that there are many blacks of my generation who continue to embrace this term. In fact, “Negro” is an option along with “black” and “African-American” on the 2010 Census that is now being undertaken by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Was it because he implied that Mr. Obama might be cut some political slack because of his oratorical skills or his looks? If so, that fact was not harmful to Mr. Joe Biden, who subsequently was elected vice president after praising Mr. Obama as “articulate” and “clean-looking.”

Or, finally, could it be viewed as offensive that Mr. Reid suggested that blacks often have a distinct way of speaking? If that is, indeed, the offense, then I will offend a lot of individuals when I assert that I can tell in probably 90 percent of the cases whether an individual is “black” merely by talking on the telephone or closing my eyes and listening to their voices.
In short, this incident does not rise to the level that it prompts me to join the parade of those who urge Mr. Reid to resign or be replaced because of it. There are far more substantive matters over which his performance should be judged than this; and I find his performance seriously flawed on any number of them.

To quote President Obama from another race incident, “this is a teachable moment,” however. Not one that warrants a beer summit, but one that requires serious reflection for the good of our nation.

We are too quick to take offense about race when none was intended. Some are too anxious to manufacture outrage over matters that do not justify the attention that we give them. And, we are too quick to politicize race.

I have also learned that Messrs. Bond, Sharpton, Jackson and a host of other Americans formerly identified as "Negroes" have forever forfeited, by their politicization of race, the moral authority to be outraged whenever a conservative (or anyone else) makes an inappropriate or “insensitive” racial comment.