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Racism, Reid & Republicans…Can’t We All Just Get Along? January 11, 2010

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Democrats, Harry Reid, National Politics, Racism, Republicans.
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Years ago, when my daughter was 10 or 11, she was assigned to read a book about Langston Hughes – the early 20th century African-American poet and playwright – for Black History month.  She came to me one day to ask me about the terms “colored” and “colored people” that cropped up throughout the book. I explained that in the past, “colored” was a term used to refer to African-Americans.  That it was once acceptable, but now was considered perjorative, and that the correct term was African-American.  My daughter chewed on this for a while, then asked, “why isn’t everybody  a colored person?”

Surprised, I asked her what she meant.  She went on to explain that she knew lots of African-Americans and that were not one color; some were dark-skinned, some were brown, some were almost white.  That she had Indian and Hispanic friends that were brown.  That even she – a supposedly white girl – had a dark complexion (olive-skinned) as compared to me (white as a sheet).  “Can we be colored people?”, she asked.  It took a while to convince her that, no, we would not be colored people.

I was reminded of this conversation with my daughter this weekend when the flap broke over Senator Harry Reid’s comments about then-candidate Barack Obama – whom he described as a “light skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one”.  Reid’s comments were revealed in the new book, “Game Change” by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, and were made to explain Obama’s acceptability to white America as an African-American candidate. 

Of course, Senator Reid’s gaffe has caused a great uproar among our friends on the right.  GOP Chairman Michael Steele said on “Meet the Press” yesterday that Reid should step down as majority leader.  Steele likened Reid’s comments to those of former Senator and majority leader Trent Lott wh was forced to resign in in 2002 when he commented that had virulent former segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond been elected president in 1948;  “…if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either,”  implying that the civil rights movement was a “problem”.  Not quite.  Steele also conveniently forgot that he was under fire in the same week for saying that he was an “honest Injun”, something Native Americans found a bit racist. 

The fact is that just about everyone from every background and every race and every political part of the spectrum is racist.  That is human.  There is a basic human desire to be better than someone else – especially if you’re on a lower socioeconomic rung  – hence the prevalence of racism and racist activity among the most impoverished communities of any race.  I challenge anyone out there to really examine themselves and what they have said and done over the years.  I doubt that there is anyone out there that has NEVER told a racist joke, uttered a cringing racial epithet, repeated and believed in some stereotypical characteristic, or fretted over the “advantages” that other races have over one’s own.  The 2004 film “Crash” illustrated this beautifully, showing white racist police officers, black racist thugs, hispanic racist drivers, and asian racist accident victims.  The film even showed an Iranian woman cleaning her store after it was vandalized saying, “Why do they call us Arab?  Don’t they know we are Persian?”   I find that the people I know that harbor the worst racist feelings are people who insist they’re not racist.  That’s usually because they have a black friend and never use the “N-word”.  

I know that I have worked very hard over the years to free myself from racist language and the like – and I still find that I fail at times.  But I also know that I believe in equality of opportunity for all Americans and I support politicians, policies, and programs that will help our nation succeed in that achievement.  Real racism is not found in the words that we use.  Real racism is found in how we treat each other; how we arrange our society in such a way that it fosters great success for one race but dooms another race to poverty and despair. 

People who support tax policies that obscenely benefit wealthy white people are probably racist.  People who oppose a woman’s right to control her own fertility, force her to have an uplanned or unwanted child, then abandon that child to poverty because they oppose social safety nets for single mothers are probably racists.  People that oppose equalized funding for education so that children from wealthy, usually white, communities get superior educations while children in the inner-city study from torn texbooks in crumbling school buildings are probably racist.  I could go on and on – but I’m sure you get the point.  I’m willing to bet that not all Republicans are racists, but most racists are Republicans.

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