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After hearing the private words Senator Harry Reid spoke regarding Barack Obama's chances of becoming President as an African American candidate, my stomach turned inside out. What has made it worse is the seemingly blasé reaction many Democratic insiders are having to this.
According to the just released, gossip mongering book "Game Change" (which I have not read nor do I plan to), Harry Reid is reported to have said the following in a private conversation about Obama's chances for the presidential candidacy:
He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.
I would like to know how discussing the hue of one's skin as a consideration for a job is not considered racism?
Look, I completely understand every conceivable aspect of a candidate's life is vetted to ensure no surprises going into an election. It has also become apparent to mainstream America through Sarah Palin's candidacy and her follow-up publicity campaign, that a candidate's demographics are considered to the minutest details, from what they wear to what they eat. I accept this is what happens. I don't have to accept that it is "right".
Here is a clear definition of racism from dictionary.com:
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others. 2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination. 3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
If we are finally going to have the race conversation in this country, let's not dumb it down for the sake of what fits into our neat world view, especially if it saves the face of what we politically believe in. If Harry Reid had something to apologize for, which indeed he did do, then in my mind this is a subject worth fully considering, despite what side of the aisle he resides on – Democrat or Republican.
If an African American has a better chance of becoming President in this country because he is "lighter skinned", why is that? What is it about dark skin which Harry Reid, or others who think like him, find more unelectable? Why? And, more importantly, is that truly moving race relations forward?
I cannot speak for Harry Reid. I have only had this conversation once in my lifetime and I mostly listened. I get that queazy feeling, once again, to share it with you now. When I was in my first career position, trying to climb the corporate latter, I had become quite chummy with my boss whose name was Judy. She and I were out after work during happy hour enjoying some sun and good conversation. Judy was (and probably still is) a Republican with liberal leaning social views. Somehow, we happened upon race.
She shared with me that it was more acceptable for the more "Caucasian looking" or "light skinned" African Americans to be accepted in mainstream media. I clearly remember her citing Bryant Gumble, but I digress. I don't think I heard much else in the conversation as it struck me as so sad, and ultimately, racist, that this would be a factor in determining someone’s job. She wasn't agreeing with it per se, she was just pointing out the facts to a young woman who hadn't seen the word through this lens before. This was over fifteen years ago. Although I could see the accuracy in what she was pointing out, I still didn't like it.
Going back to the definition of racism, it states in the first point (condensed), "a belief that inherent differences among races determine individual achievement, involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others." In essence, what Harry sees as a more “light looking” Barack Obama, speaks to how well he can lead the country because it will put more white folks at ease when someone who looks more like them is ruling them.
Promoting the idea of evaluating the hue of one's race as a determinant of whether he can or cannot win an election, which is what I believe was the intent behind Harry Reid's comment based upon his apology, which President Obama accepted, is still racism masked as something a lot tidier. While Harry may not personally believe these things determine whether Barack Obama was qualified, he was in a powerful position to help or hurt his candidacy. It was a major mistake, one in which I believe his position as Senate Majority Leader should be surrendered, regardless of how the president feels about it. It speaks poorly to the state of race relations in this country when one of our senior leaders gets a pass on behavior as damaging as this because a policy issue hangs in the balance.
It begs the other question, "what if Barack Obama had been dark skinned?"