There is no shortage of reporting, analysis, criticism, and outrage at Harry Reid’s comments which were recently released in a book. Reid was quoted as saying Obama was “light-skinned” and speaks with “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” As usual, the media tends to over exaggerate and sensationalize any slightly controversial story in order to attract viewers. This is no exception.
Leaving aside the reaction and hype, the important question to ask is whether or not there was any truth to Reid’s comments. By all accounts, Obama is a “light-skinned” black man, the term Negro is used in various official organizations such as the United Negro College Fund, and he does not speak in a dialect that many in America would describe as an African American dialect.
What Reid was really getting at, I believe, is that as a black man running for the presidency, Obama is perhaps neutral enough to win the votes of both white and black voters. This is particularly important in a country like the United States which is strongly divided along racial lines. Many made similar comments throughout Obama’s run for presidency, although they made their case less provocatively.
It does seem likely that if someone like Al Sharpton ran as the Democratic presidential candidate, there would be many white people who would not vote for him because they perhaps feel he does not adequately represent their interests. The opposite is true also. If a complete redneck and racist white person ran, a large percentage of the black population would not vote for him. One only has to look at the 2004 election results to see that Bush was not received well by black voters. He received only 11% of African American votes, while Kerry won a total of 88%.
So, while Reid’s comments may on the surface appear controversial, he was simply analyzing the voting population and highlighting the sad truth that exists in America today. Some wishful thinkers may profess to the existence of a ‘post-racial society’, but the reality is far less cheerful. It is difficult to undo hundreds of years of thinking, whether you are a black or white person. In order to reach this elusive society though, there will need to be more frank discussions about how race is perceived in this nation without the hype and scandal that overwhelmingly surrounds such talk.