Finding Truth in Reid's 'Negro' Remark

Race critics take a second look, say remark was insensitive, but held grains of truth

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Amid widespread dismay over Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) reported "Negro" remark, a few commentators are taking a second look: while all agree the word "Negro" is offensive, they wonder if perhaps there were elements of truth to his comments. After all, they say, Americans do pay attention to color of skin and other race and class markers, so why should we be surprised?

  • Reid Is No Trent Lott, argues veteran race commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, who objects to the comparison being made between Reid and the segregation-supporting former senator from Mississippi:
I think you can grant that, in this era, the term "Negro dialect" is racially insensitive and embarrassing. That said, the fair-mind listener understands the argument--Barack Obama's complexion and his ability to code-switch is an asset ... code-switching is the standard M.O. for any African American with middle class aspirations. But there's no such defense for Trent Lott ...  Whereas a reputable portion of black people still use the term Negro without a hint of irony, no black person thinks the guy yelling "Segregation Forever!" would have cured us of "all these problems."
  • America Cares About Color  "All the outrage," writes Politics Daily's Mary Curtis, "at Reid's admittedly clumsy, politically calculated remark is both cynical and hilarious." Remarking that "Reid's comments have lost any meaning except political cudgel," Curtis thinks "it's easier than people really discussing if his words have some truth and why in 2010, categorizing an entire race into divisions as meaningless as skin tone might be troubling." For example, she says, "I do know there's a reason that for some, black beauty begins with Beyonce and ends with Halle Berry." She also mentions the "darkening" of O.J. Simpson once he "became public enemy No. 1."
  • Dreadful, Revealing  "What Reid did was shrewdly assess the reasons why white people would find Obama to be an acceptable candidate based on their own prejudices, revealing his own in the process," states Adele Stan. Writing at AlterNet, she is horrified by the phrase "Negro dialect"--all segregated cultures or "once-ghettoized people have particular linguistic phrases and rhythms," she points out, citing the Boston Irish. She allows, however, that "in his assessment of the role Obama's complexion would play in the presidential candidate's success ... Reid was on the money."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.