Today the talk shows have been filled to the brim with talk of Senator Harry Reid’s admitted gaffe from a private conversation regarding President Obama. From Yahoo News:


WASHINGTON – The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate apologized on Saturday for comments he made          about  Barack Obama’s race during the 2008 presidential bid and are quoted in a yet-to-be-released book about the campaign.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada described in private then-Sen. Barack Obama as “light skinned” and “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Obama is the nation’s first African-American president.

“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,” Reid said in a statement released after the excerpts were first reported on the Web site of The Atlantic.

“I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda.”

Soooo, Senator Reid manned up and said he used a poor choice of words. I agree. First of, I would have to know with whom he had his PRIVATE conversation before I got too judgemental. Let’s examine the word ‘Negro, which also appears on the 2000 census and the 2010 census. Is that word outdated, out of vogue, or just plain racist? If it appears on the census and is used in organizations like the United Negro College Fund, should it be changed immediately?

RNC chief Michael Steele was quite outspoken in his disapproval of Reid’s choice of words. In the Washington Post  this morning, Steele called on Reid to step down:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should resign from office after acknowledging that he had described President Obama as “light skinned” and possessing no “Negro dialect” in a conversation with reporters.

“There is this standard where Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own,” said Steele in an interview with “Fox News Sunday. “But if it comes from anyone else, it is racism.”

Steele, who is African American, compared Reid’s comments about Obama to remarks made by then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lot in 2002 in which the Mississippi Republican, at a birthday party for South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, said that “all these problems” might not have occurred if Thurmond had been elected president in 1948.

Last week Steele made the unfortunate remark, ‘honest Injun’ when attesting to his own truthfulness.  He seemed unaware that someone might consider that expression offensive.  Talk shows were filled with various talking heads who compared what Reid said to Imus’s reference to teenage basketball players as ‘nappy headed ‘ho’s.’  

I think we can all agree that there are very few instances where the term ‘Negro’ is appropriate.  Much has changed as far as polite terms since I was a child.  When I was a kid, ‘Negro’ was the polite term that people used.     Our ‘PC’ has changed, often drastically.  We have other terms to choose from.  Unless we are making historical reference, there are just much better ways of speaking.  However, to not understand the difference between the Reid remark and the Imus remark is just plain ignorant. 

It will be interesting to see how our contributors feel about this latest round of Democrat vs. Republican.  I shied alway from this topic all day.  However, it is a live, viable topic  that people are talking about.  I have decided to risk life and limb and post an Anti thread on the subject.

70 Thoughts to “Racist, Realist or Just Out of Vogue?”

  1. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    AAVE??? Is that related to Ebonics? I thought Jive was pretty cool. African American Vernacular English…….I swear to God I’ve seen and heard everything now.

  2. Slow, maybe someone is pulling your leg. There are all sorts of dialects all over the United States. I wish someone could explain mine.

  3. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    OK, I looked it up, and it’s legit! Interesting stuff, actually. Slowpoke will shut his yap about that topic!

  4. DB, I think most of us knew what he (Reid) meant.

    Linguists also have some interesting theories about appalachian dialects. How about the language of Tangier Island?

  5. Beofre WWII people often didn’t go far from home and they stuck with their ‘own kind.’ Nowadays people listen to TV and radio. Areas just aren’t as remote. Will we all end up sounding alike rather than how we sound when we live in our own little enclaves?

  6. DB

    I visited Tangier island years ago and was amazed that each front yard of the residents served as a cemetary for their family members. Imagine burying your relations in your front yard. This entire country is full of dialects brought here from other countries and passed down thru generations. Just for fun watch the documentary: Do You Speak American? that was done by PBS several years ago. It’s a linguistic documentary of dialects that exist in America and notes where certain terminology/accents were derived from. I know that another poster above noted that we are a young country history-wise as compared to Europe. However, unlike Europe the US has hosted significantly more diverse populations and has been created/settled by more diverse populations than ever settled in Europe. So we may be young, but diversity wise we’re way ahead of our European counterparts.

  7. @GainesvilleResident
    I agree that it’s not the term “negro” that is offensive. It’s the rest of the package, as GR points out.

    When I here someone use the word “negro,” I don’t think “racist.” I think, “circa 1950?”

  8. Very true, DB, we are all hybrids for the most part. I think most Europeans are somewhat smug about their ‘throughbredness.’ and find our mixed ethnicity quaint, charming, or something that involves winking and nudging.

    On the other hand, Americans are no where near as tribal. And Europeans all did their mixing and creating hybrids many years before us and to just as great a degree, often at the business end of a sword, so they have nothing to be on their high horse about.

  9. DB

    Please explain the difference between Negro and black. In Latin, French and Spanish ‘negro” is defined as meaning “black”, notwithstanding other less-than -proper words “negro” stands for what it means to stand for. It is not a pejorative, it is a descriptor. Not like he was accused of being high yellow or something…

  10. Wolverine

    Moon, your “sacred cow” story gave me a very long chuckle. I cannot believe how many times all of us are caught out by our use of the colloquial. I was once in a head-to-head conference with a very intelligent young colleague about how to plan and carry out an important mission. In pointing out potential problem areas, I cautioned him that we didn’t want this thing to turn into a “Chinese fire drill.” Even as those words were exiting my unthinking mouth, my brain registered that the young fellow was Chinese-American, something that hadn’t even entered into my consciousness up to that point. Talk about licking up the floor with your tongue! As for the young man — he laughed.

  11. And his laughter is to his credit. I don’t care how careful we are about those kinds of expressions, they always manage to pop out at the wrong time. Cute story and I bet you were ready to slice your own tongue out.

  12. GainesvilleResident

    Seinfeld even did an entire episode on this – with the term “Indian giver” being said in front of an American Indian woman he was trying to date!

  13. Rick Bentley

    In Reid’s favor, most people black white and other don’t care about this, even slightly.

    The whole thing/”story” is absurd. Reid’s rhetoric sounded dated, he sounded a little surprised that a black man – he doesn’t see too many of those either in Nevada or in the Senate I guess – could talk well. But so what? Nothing technically “racist” or of ill will in there.

    Comparisons to Trent Lott don’t hold up – because Lott himself decided he had erred, and stepped down. He could have chosen to fight, but given his connections to the “Council of Conservative Citizens” and real-world connections to real-world racists, chose not to.

    “But some people whine harder when a Republican makes a mistake”. So we have three parties in play :

    “Congressional Black Caucus” members and would-be civil rights activits who use their elected offices to bash Republicans and to play partisan politics. This is news? I think everyone in America understands that this is the case, and I think there’s less and less of a market for this over time.

    The Republican Party, whose joke of a chairman continues to make a joke of himself, who acts as if this non-story has any importance to this nation rather than to focus on anything real.

    The Democratic Party, whose ostensible “leaders” apologized and accepted the apology quickly, so as to attempt to preclude any real dialogue about race. For goodness’ sake, couldn’t Obama have at least invited Reid over for a beer with Crowley and Gates? Is this not a “teachable moment” for someone somewhere (maybe Michael Steele)? I see the complete absence of leadership here.

    So both parties continue their vacuous behavior. And black people have it worse because they get associated with crank cases like Michael Steele and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. The rest of us get screwed in two directions on this, black people get it from three directions.

    I say again, the system is broken.

  14. Formerly Anonymous

    I must confess that when I was making a comment in the thread about the DREAM Act vs. CIR ASAP, I was going to write that advocates for CIR ASAP were going for ‘the whole enchilada’ instead of the passable DREAM Act.

    I changed the phrase to avoid distracting from my argument, but now I regret doing so. It is always said that self-censorship is the worst kind. I would have used the phrase ‘whole enchilada’ in any other situation, and I should have continued to do so regardless of being thought politically incorrect.

  15. Formerly anon, how funny. Not being able to spell enchilada would have probably prevented me from doing it. If you want to go back and rewrite, go for it!

    Rick, I am sorry to say but what you have said is pretty much very accurate. (not because you said it but because it exists.)

  16. Poor Richard

    Piece in the online magazine Slate yesterday –
    “When Did the Word Negro Become Taboo? Around 1966”

    -Apparently “Negro” was a term promoted by both Booker T. Washington
    and WEB DuBois to replace “colored”.

    -Stokely Carmicheal and the Black Power movement in the mid-sixties
    pushed for “black”.

    -Twenty years later, Jesse Jackson championed “Afro-American”.

    (New Yorker Cartoon: White older business man talking to younger
    man of color – “So, what are you people calling yourselves these days?”)

  17. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    I honestly can’t see anything wrong with “black man” or “white man”. I don’t see how that could be taken to be disrespectful. “African American” is a bunch of poo-poo. I demand to be called a “Swiss-German American”.

  18. Wolverine

    I kind of agree with the Poke. As time passes, many of us are becoming “mutts” in terms of ethnic origins anyway. Some of my grandchildren would need a whole paragraph of ethnic indicators and hyphens to give an accurate picture of their foreign heritage.

  19. Rick Bentley

    It’s ironic and silly, the “United Negro College Fund” exists with the politically correct stamp of approval but the word “negro” on a census form offends some. The NAACP is in vogue but “colored” is taken as insult.

    IMO anything but the n-word should be okay.

    We have an actual black President. I understand that it’s not his job to decide what black people prefer themselves called. But, in this case, he could have clarified that “negro” is not an insult. IMO Obama shows no leadership, ever, on anything. He is as confused in the job as Bush was.

    This should have been a “teachable moment” as I said before. Michael Steele and Harry Reid should be invited to the White House for a beer, if anyone.

  20. Rick Bentley

    “IMO anything but the n-word should be okay.”

    What I meant was, anything that has been used hsitorically by black people and other people, that was not an insult, should be okay.

    (I didn’t mean to include “spade” or “mulinion” [sic] or so forth).

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