Okay, so there is no court action on which to report here. But I feel compelled to weigh in (along with scores of others) on the present flap surrounding Harry Reid's unfortunate comments about then presidential hopeful Barack Obama, memorialized for all time in the upcoming book Game Change. I won't bore the reader with quoting Reid's comments once again--if anyone really needs reminding, Google "Harry Reid" and "Game Change" and his comments will be readily found.
The most interesting thing about Reid's comments isn't that the comments were made, because people of color know that racist comments still lurk at every corner and pop up even in their own backyards. What is interesting is that Reid was actually trying to say something positive and those were the words he chose to use. Reid was trying to discuss the reasons he felt his party had a good chance of winning the presidential election. In fact, what Reid said is probably true. It probably was a lot easier for a lot of (white) Americans to cast their vote for Obama because (all things being equal) he came across as more mainstream than, say, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson.
But, of course, "mainstream" is not the adjective that Harry Reid used. Even if Reid was trying to make a valid point, his words betray an old-time way of thinking. His words echo a time in our history when it was common to hear racist remarks in polite company and no one batted an eye. Really, this is the way a lot of "old white men" (for lack of a better stereotyping, pigeon-holing descriptive phrase) still talk today behind closed doors and amongst themselves. Remember the Texaco scandal from the late 1990's? If not, click here. So, is Reid a racist? After all, Reid was actually trying to complement Obama rather than denigrate him.
Let's look at it from a different angle. If a Republican Senator had made the exact same comments about a Republican candidate, (hypothetically, say, RNC Chairman Michael Steele), would they sound any more or less racist? Would the public or the media be more inclined to forgive a Republican for making the same remarks? Would we chalk it up to ignorance or insensitivity, but not racism because the comments were an attempt, albiet a poor one, at a compliment of a fellow Republican who just happened to be an African-American?
Let's change the angle again. What if Reid had commented on a different hypothetical African-American candidate from the Republican party and had speculated, hypothetically, that the hypothetical candidate had little chance of winning because America was not ready for a president with dark skin color and strong dialect? Let's face it; those conversations probably took place somewhere in the Republican party when Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson were campaigning for the Democratic nomination. Perhaps, by itself, that concept may not be objectionable because perhaps it was true. But let's not forget the specific words Reid used, and this hypothetical discussion takes on a more racist feel.
Let's make that angle even more acute. What if a Republican had made the above hypothetical comments about a hypothetical Democratic candidate? It is not as though the Republican party has the reputation of championing racial equality. Now those hypothetical comments sound even more racist. Now it sounds more like the comments made at that Texaco corporate boardroom.
I guess my point is this: Racist comments are made by all kinds of people all the time, whether the comments are about African-Americans, Asian-Americans or even Native Americans. But what makes the speaker a racist is a lot more complicated. Racism in the United States hasn't gone anywhere except underground, which only makes it harder to accurately point out the racists. Reid apologized profusely, appeared contrite and President Obama accepted his apology. So, is Harry Reid a racist? Who knows. Should he resign? Probably not.