Why do I allege that America has played the race card? Because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s private musings about race have now come out of the closet. Reid said what many Americans think: President Barack Obama is light skinned and has no “Negro dialect” unless he wants to. Reid is spot on.
If he misunderstood anything, he misunderstood the optics of racial politics. The Republicans will compare him to Trent Lott, who was forced to resign when he said, “the United States would have avoided “all these problems” if then-segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948. Reid is no Lott. And, perhaps we would not have had all of these problems, if Reid had not aired America’s dirty racial laundry.
First, while I don’t know what a “Negro dialect” is, I know many Blacks identify with and embrace the term, Negro without chagrin. I know many Blacks use one dialect when in the presence in the Blacks and another when in the presence of Whites. “It’s like that and that’s the way it is.”
Second, the reality is in America color matters regardless of whether liberal elites, conveniently Black scholars and opportunistic conservatives wish to acknowledge that it does.
According to political scientist Nayda Terkildsen, who studied the effect of skin color on White voting preference, voters do see color. She published a paper titled “When White Voters Evaluate Black Candidates: The Processing Implications of Candidate Skin Color, Prejudice, and Self-Monitoring.” It described the results of her experimental study. In the study, she presented a random sample of adults descriptions of “one of three fictitious candidates running for governor.” Each candidate was described in identical terms with the only difference being an attached photograph of either “a white male, a light-complected (sic) Black male, or a dark-complected (sic) Black male.”
Terkildsen found a statistically significant effect that “Black candidates were penalized by White voters based on the candidate’s race, skin color, and individual levels of racial prejudice.” In other words, color counts despite the politically correct balderdash on race that has infected America. America is racial not “post-racial.”
Third, the president’s own public racial narrative supports Reid’s statement. In his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama said, “Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.”
Yes, Mr. President, the United States of America is where even you (the most powerful man in the world) can’t talk about race in any meaningful way. It’s also where, as a candidate for president, you took the shackles of race off only when Rev. Jeremiah Wright forced you to do so lest you were to lose the election; where it was insisted that Justice Sonia Sotomayor step back from her wise Latina comment, lest she lose confirmation to the United States Supreme Court; where you chastised your Attorney General for calling America a nation of cowards on race, lest you lose the support of the post-racial apologists; and where you, Mr. President, had to drink beer rather than eat crow when you appeared to talk about race in the Dr. Henry Louis Gates case.
Fourth, spare me the feigned outrage of Michael Steele and Liz Cheney who have both called on Reid to resign. As I wrote in my piece, “The Curious Case of Michael Steele”, since being elected chair of the GOP Steele has been dissed by the party. And the Republican Party has rejected his fried chicken and potato salad strategy.
In an interview with Cameron Cowan of milehive.com, Steele promised to lure more Blacks to the Republican Party by offering fried chicken and potato salad. Perhaps had he used Negro dialect and offered chitlins, the strategy would have worked.
Steele calling for Reid to resign is, in fact, the pot calling the kettle black.
As for Cheney, who said, “I don’t think racism is OK, George, whether you’re saying it in private or in public. And the excuse of it by liberals, you know, is really inexcusable.” Before this incident, I don’t recall Cheney being an outspoken advocate for racial equality. Perhaps her racial advocacy was delivered in an undisclosed location or in a bunker accessible only to those with the proper credentials.
Cheney, liberals, conservatives and others who live in racial glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Reid and the chattering class prove the central theme in my book The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “Post-Racial” America which is: The Negro Problem in 2008 is part law, part politics, part oppression, part internalized oppression and part ideology. As America becomes more polarized into red states and blue states, into liberals and conservatives, into right, left, and even further into Black and White, racism has become even more pronounced if not more difficult to identify.
Beware America, racial objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear.
Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘Post-Racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.