My my my, such a kerfuffel.
Sen. Harry Reid, D- Nev, the Senate Majority Leader, is being ripped for saying Obama was elected because he has relatively light skin and doesn’t speak with a “negro” dialect.
No kidding, and the sun rises in the east. Is that controversial as well?
Then neither should this be. It is, though, as our own story here says, and of course the national news is full of it. The GOP Party Chair Michael Steele wants Reid to resign because, really, how could he say such a thing? You can almost smell the manufactured huffiness.
But it’s true. Never mind the use of the word “negro,” which I thought was one of the acceptable ones (United Negro College Fund anyone?) let’s talk about the realities of who can get elected in this country. Could Mike Tyson, even if he repeated what Obama said, word for word, through the entire campaign, have won the election?
No. Not a chance. This nation is not ready for that yet. Maybe ready isn’t the right word. Too many racists who still think legal apartheid in this country was just fine are still alive, may be more accurate. Too many of their children aren’t racist but still think blacks are, well, just, oh you know, weird, or something.
In 1968 the NYTimes ran an article saying that black people could be executives in major companies. Seriously, that was the news: A black guy could be an executive. You expected the headline to say “Wow, black people: More than just watermelon and fried chicken!”
In 1980 Ronald Reagan made a fameous speech in Mississippi in which he advocated “states rights” in a manner which made it clear that he was talking about race. There’s a fine analysis of the speech, and it’s context, here (click!)
We’ve progressed a lot since then, but along with the fact that we as a society still have a way to go on accepting blacks as equals, there the political reality that we as a voting nation, buy our politicians the way we buy toothpaste.
It’s all about image first, then maybe we lo0k at qualifications, although the Sara Palin phenomenon makes me wonder about that latter.
We as consumers trust people who look the way we want them to look, we don’t trust people who look different. This is why a woman, any woman, is going to have a tough time getting elected president, although in recent years it’s gotten easier. Hillary Clinton and, yes, Ms. Palin, broke a lot of ground there.
It’s not that a woman has worse ideas, or is worse at command, they just don’t look like Americans expect leaders to look. There’s a massive pile of cultural and sociological baggage behind that, but there it is. George Bush was amazingly telegenic, although he had the command capabilities of a C-student at Yale.
It’s kind of sad — just an aside here — but someone who is rawboned, lank, with a big nose and a funny name could probably not be elected in this climate. Abraham Lincoln, especially before the beard? Get real!
Then you have Obama, who looks OK and is an amazing speaker. He has a drop-dead gorgeous wife and a standard American family straight out of central casting.
There was a lot else going on in 2008 too — the McCain/Palin meltdown, the massive economic disruption, a huge cultural shift of letting women and blacks into politics in both parties in a kind of race to see who could look more open minded — but as far as the discussion on appearances goes, Reid was correct.
Look at who else in the past has been spoken of as a possible “first” black president – Julian Bond and Colin Powell. Both light skinned blacks, both well-spoken men.
Bond, famously, once did a skit on Saturday Night Live with Garrett Morris on which type of blacks were more intelligent, light skinned, or dark skinned. Morris, of course, played the foil, since he had the darker skin. You can enjoy the transcript by clicking this button (click!)
The false perception was a reality in 1977, it is reality now. Anyone who thinks we don’t, still, have racism in this country, both subtle and overt, is kidding him/herself.
As this commentery in the WaPost makes clear, Reid spoke the truth and it is the GOP (which has plenty of southern members who voted against Obama precisely because he is black) that is screaming about namby pamby political correctness. It is jumping on this as a way to attack the democrats because their policy is to attack anything and everything this administration does, even if it speaks the truth.
So why are they getting traction with this if Reid did tell the truth? The Big Lie is a powerful tool.
There’s actually an old joke about how you take the obvious truth and, by speaking of it in a carefully crafted way, make people think it’s bad. It goes like this:
A grocery store manager was dismayed to discover that he’d received a large shipment of salmon that was white, not pink. Dismayed at what to do with it, he finally hit on this idea: He told his clerks to make a huge display of the white salmon in the store, and put up a huge sign that said “White Salmon, Guaranteed not to turn pink!”
He sold out.