Monday, January 11, 2010

Racism vs. the Realities of Race - What's the Big Deal?

Is there a difference between a racist comment and a comment on racial social and political realities? Who gets to decide? The party (or parties) toward whom the comments are directed? Sympathizers who are offended? Other parties who have been accused of making racist comments ('if what I said was bad, what about him/her?')?

The uncertainty of these questions go to show how thorny the issue of race is in our country.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid, no stranger to controversy, last got into hot water over race related remarks last year, when he compared conservative opponents to health care legislation to supporters of slavery and segregation, has done it again.

In a book co-authored by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann entitled, 'Game Change', a chronicle of the 2008 presidential campaign, Reid opined in a private conversation on the readiness of the American electorate to support an African-American for the office of president. Of course, he was talking about then candidate Barack Obama.

" [Reid's] encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed 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," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination."

Of course, condemnation has been swift and unsparing...

"[Nevada businessman and political opponent Danny] Tarkanian said that Reid "disgraces himself almost monthly with some disparaging remark about his constituents, political opponents, or now the president," in a statement released Saturday afternoon."

"The National Republican Senatorial Committee echoed that sentiment in a statement of its own release Saturday afternoon. "For those who hope to one day live in a color-blind nation it appears Harry Reid is more than a few steps behind them," said communications director Brian Walsh. "Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long history of embarrassing and controversial remarks by the senior Senator from Nevada.""

Sunday morning's political talk shows and newspaper articles included both reports of this excerpt, as well as calls for his resignation. But was Reid's comment racist or a comment on what he believed was Americans' attitude toward race? Reid has since apologized....

"I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words," said Reid in a statement. "I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments."

Was there really any need?

And, as was pointed out by some Republicans on Sunday, was this an instance of liberals blanketly giving their own a pass, when it comes to race, while vilifying any conservative who dares to broach the subject?

What's the difference between Reid's comment and Rush Limbaugh's observation some time ago that the only reason Philadelphia Eagle's quarterback Donovan McNabb, was not more heavily criticized was because of the color of his skin? Or, as some pointed out, Senator Trent Lott's exuberant support of Strom Thurmon's position as a presidential candidacy in 1948, when he led a walkout of Dixiecrats at the Democratic Convention over the issue of the party's stance on segregation.

Does any remark about race that does not speak in glowing idealistic terms of the racial realities of this country's past (or present, for that matter), constitute racism?

After all, isn't it a reality, a reality regarding racial attitudes in America, that many white and black Obama supporters, weren't initially on board with his candidacy until the Iowa Caucuses? That was when he showed the rest of the country that he could appeal to white voters. Isn't it true that a darker skin, less articulate Black man would have been perceived as less intelligent, more militant and more threatening than Obama? Or is that analysis of the American mood and temperament regarding race, in itself, racist?

It is an unfortunate aspect of our culture that in situations in which African-Americans consider public office (and advancement in the private sector as well), there has to be a consideration as to how 'acceptable' we can be to white people. It is a reality. Is it racist for a white man to mention that, no matter how inelegantly that may be done?

Of course if Reid was saying that the reason he found Obama acceptable, is because he is light-skinned, articulate and without a Negro dialect, then that is something else altogether.

On the other hand, let's take Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. He too is African-American, articulate and achieved some comfort level with white people in his party. Recent comments on the part of Steele, that Republicans would not regain a majority status in the coming election cycle, because they are not ready to lead; his book written and published, 'independent' of his role as RNC chair, his recent public comments to critics within his party to '...shut up, get on board or get out of the way...' and his embrace of the 'tea baggers' and 'town hallers' (abandoning his earlier attempts to give Republicans and conservatives a more 'urban' appeal) have some party members and leaders calling for his head!

Is this 'racism'? An effort to try and get the head of the RNC 'under control'? Why is it appealing for Sarah Palin to 'go rogue', as it were, and not Steele? Don't get me wrong, I think Steele is on the wrong side of history in a number of ways. But is he the head of the RNC or not? According to his own defense of his leadership, he has done at least as good a job of bringing money and members to the party as has Tim Cain, is Democratic counterpart - so what's the problem?

The problem is, race is indeed a thorny issue. For minorities and whites. Without a courageous willingness to debate and argue (in the best senses of those words) where we are and where we must go in this country with this issue it will continue to be. Race conversations are heavy with the need for admissions of public and personal responsibility. It is hard for most of us to have talks and negotiations without feeling that something is being taken from us or being withheld from us. They must be held throughout political cycles, economic upswings and downturns. They must be inter-community dialogues and intra-community dialogues. They must be had until trust is earned, healing continues and shame is no longer a factor. And it is dialogue of which we cannot become weary.

To be honest, I don't know what Reid meant, because I don't know Reid, I do think he should stick to thoughtful written statements - or go nowhere without an interpreter. I thought Trent Lott's apology should have been enough. I have a hard time taking anything Rush Limbaugh says seriously. And I believe that Michael Steele needs to tell somebody where he thinks he's leading the Republican Party so they can make up their minds whether or not that's where they want to go, but publicly telling people who have to support you to 'shut up' is sheer lunacy, not leadership.

And I believe that in a country that has legitimate problems dealing with race, precious few people making a big deal out of any of this have intentions to do anything about it.

And that's the real problem!

9 comments:

Chris said...

Democrats seem to have a history of racist comments and seem to get by with it. Case in point, Howard Dean, Bill Clinton and Hillary when she went into that fake black accent.

Gerald Britt said...

Oh Chris, I'm trying to be magnanimous on this issue and you just won't let me will you?

Do we have to go back to the fictitious 'welfare queen' that Reagan brought up? Or how about Lee Atwater and George W. Bush, with the Willie Horton ads? Or Nixon and his 'law and order' platform that was aimed primarily at African-Americans?

Jesse Helms was a segregationist who marched out of the 1948 Democratic Convention because he and other Dixiecrats wanted to preserve segregation. Ultimately it was southern democrats who left the party because of their dissatisfaction with Civil Rights legislation and was the outgrowth of the growth of the...Republican Party of the south (before its previous flirtation with George Wallace as a potential presidential candidate, until his attempted assassination). Come on Chris, get real...

That's why its not worth the argument. Republicans are not saying we need to make sure we all have a new paradigm in our view on race and how we speak to and about minorities. They're simply scoring cheap and ineffective political points by jumping up and down and pointing petulant fingers saying, 'Look, Look, they do it too!'

They have no intention of doing anything to change or work for change in this regard.

Even you have better things to be negative about!

Geoff said...

Your last line is the most important takeaway from the current "debate."
Thanks.

Chris said...

Would you be so magnamious if Rush Limbaugh had said that? I doubt it.

Gerald Britt said...

Chris,

As you read in my post, I don't believe anything Rush says should be taken seriously. I'm absolutely amazed people think he has anything worthwhile to say...

Chris said...

Should we take Obama seriously when he said his administration would be the most open and transparent, debates would be on c-span, no pork spending , etc.

I have found Rush extremely creditable. Liberals don't like it because he is right most of the time.

Gerald Britt said...

Chris,

We take Barack Obama seriously because he is the duly elected President of the United States. He won both the popular AND the electoral vote.

Rush Limbaugh is a popular entertainer, whose appeal is limited to those who prefer anger and vitriol to actual thought. There are liberals AND conservatives who dismiss him because he is not serious.

Chris said...

Obama was a behind the scenes creation who can read a teleprompter as long as it works correctly. He was mentored by a communist and even had one on his staff, maybe more. His goal is to make as many people as possible dependent on government, He is going to ruin our country and he is doing it on purpose. Tine will prove me right. With so many people dependent, who do you thing they will vote for? Actually, the stimulus package is a big slush fund, Ask the governors of Louisiana and Nebraska.

Gerald Britt said...

Chris,

The majority of your fellow citizens didn't see it your way. And whether or not they come around to your way of thinking is yet to be determined.

I'm sorry but so much of what you say is so totally irrelevant and so completely belies a personal contempt, its just hard to take it seriously. The 'teleprompter comment' for example - Obama uses one effectively; Bush couldn't - why is that offensive? There is no such thing as a presidential candidate whose image is not a 'creation' of someone somewhere - so what are you talking about? Obama will 'ruin' this country - more than it was ruined by two unnecessary wars, stagnant wages for the working class, a growing poor under class and an economy that was driven off the rails by deregulation, greed, the erosion of a tax base by tax cuts for the wealthy and growing unemployment?

Its unfortunate that you feel that continuing the same policies would make this country 'better'. But so be it. But you and others who feel as you do need to get over the fact that the country rejected that idea and decided we needed something different.

It will take a massive effort, and yes change, to correct the mistakes of the past administration. If there are better ideas (aside from yelling the same old bromides louder because you think the country didn't hear you the last time; or character attacks and outright lies) then you've got another three years to put them forth.

Unfortunately, I don't see that being done. And I promise you the rest of the country doesn't either.