OK, so Sen. Harry Reid stepped in it last week by stating the obvious in the book seen and heard ’round the world, Game Change. Reid got caught slacking on his pimpin’ (Is that Ebonics, Negro dialect, slang or standard Black English?) and suggested that then-Sen. Barack Obama would be electable because he is a “light-skinned” African-American who does not use “Negro Dialect,” unless he wishes. Now Reid has been called everything but a child of God, and many, including the Republican National Committee’s resident H.N.I.C. (Head Negro in Charge) Michael Steele, want him to resign. Really? This from a Black man who says he’s going to start RNC meetings with a “What’s up” (also the name of his blog) and bring fried chicken and potato salad to appeal to young Blacks. In the words of Good Times’ ghetto prophetess, Willona Woods, “Negro, please.” But I digress.
Reid is the product of his environment and his time period, so no I’m not mad that he used the term “Negro” and stated the obvious privately. It is unspoken, but it is known and Black folks will tell you privately about the color complex. In fact, when I read about his statements, I immediately thought to myself, “What Black person put that bug in his ear?” Perhaps Reid could have chosen a different word, but what he said is accurate and has been statistically proven. TheRoot.com’s Omar Wasow highlighted a 1993 study, “When White Voters Evaluate Black Candidates: The Processing Implications of Candidate Skin Color, Prejudice, and Self-Monitoring,” which clearly showed that White voters prefer light-skinned Black candidates. I’m interested in finding out what Black voters prefer; I suspect it would be the same, but I digress again.
Think about who has been elected: The nation’s first African-American governor post-reconstruction L. Douglas Wilder (Va.); Newark, N.J.’s Black mayor, Cory Booker; D.C.’s Black mayor, Adrian Fenty; Massachusetts’ first Black governor, Deval Patrick; former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt-Dixon/Kelly; former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; New York’s first Black congressman, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (Md.); New York Gov. David Paterson and even our own Mayor Anthony Foxx. This list is just off the top of my head. I’m not saying that this is always the case, but I’m just saying.
What pisses me off most about this focus on Reid is that this is actually a teachable moment. How do you label or address anybody in a meaningful way? What are the challenges? Whites are Irish, Scottish, Italian, Russian, Australian, South African, Dutch — you name it, they are represented. So what does White really mean? Latino? Asian? African? You get the gist. Instead we start casting stones and calling for resignations.
Hell, Black folks cannot even agree on what to call each other, so why are we surprised when White folks can’t figure out what to call us either? We know the “N” word is unacceptable; yet and still, many Black folks use it profusely in music, pop culture and privately — and many non-Blacks use it in the same way.
For the sake of transparency, my girlfriend Yvonne and I use “Negro” at least once per conversation — sometimes positively and other times disparagingly. For example: the United Negro College Fund (positive use); Michael Steele is the Republican Party’s House Negro (negative use). That’s how it goes down sometimes, and Harry Reid is guilty of nothing more than using bad judgment by thinking that a statement like that would remain private.
Why are people really mad?