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If you want to teach your kids some life lessons, turn on cable TV!

senator harry reid

Kimberly Seals Allers: Like any mom, I'm always looking for a teachable moment -- in school, at the dinner table, or in the checkout line. Yesterday, I was searching for one in the news (I know, crazy right??). The constant bombardment of coverage of Senator Reid's racial faux pas on every cable news network was so asinine I wanted to cancel my cable subscription in disgust (but the new season of "Big Love" just started).

In case you've been in a cave, the uproar is over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's recently published comments about President Barack Obama. A new book quotes Reid (D-Nevada) as saying privately in 2008 that Obama could be successful as a black candidate in part because of his "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Now Reid is under fire for making racially insensitive comments, with many Republicans calling for him to resign. WTF?

Now, apart from the use of the word "Negro," which makes him sound more like an Uncle Ben's throwback than a racist, the fact is that what Reid said is indeed true. In fact, most African-Americans agree with Reid.

Let's review. Is Obama light-skinned? Yes.

Does he speak a straight-from-the-suburbs-Harvard-educated level of English? Yes.

So what? So do 10 million other black Americans. We've just been stereotyped as infinitive-splitting, participle-dangling fools, so any black person with a standard command of the English language is viewed as an anomaly. And truth be told, any one of us can pick up a "Negro dialect" when we want to have one. That's a trick black people have been navigating for years. Some historians assert it was a survival tactic learned during slavery. Researchers have even documented our ability to "shift" in and out of our various worlds, "shifting corporate" to use our educated "work" voice in the office or around white people, and then "shifting" again to have a more relaxed vernacular when we're among like folks.

What is even more upsetting is that the majority of people in an uproar about this alleged insensitivity to blacks are ... non-blacks. Oh yeah, and the black man who heads the Republican National Convention, but I'm not sure we're still counting him these days. But deeply recessed behind the media hype and the blatantly obvious political agenda, I did manage to extricate a few critical lessons about life in America that I hope to pass along to my beautiful children.

1. Don't tell the truth. Telling the truth is not appreciated in this country. Especially when the truth involves race. We are absolutely, positively not ready to have an honest conversation about race in this country. I think the history of comments posted to some of my Momlogic blog posts speaks volumes to this little nugget.

2. Don't ever use antiquated words. This is truly one to grow on. Keep up with the current politically correct or popular parlance. Pick up a People magazine or watch Sports Center, for crying out loud. Nobody wants to get caught using words that only the Census Bureau and old politicians are still using.

3. Don't bother apologizing. Reid has apologized and apologized and apologized. His apology has been accepted by the President, and countless other black leaders have continued to support him, but to no avail. Apparently, the "I'm sorry" thing only works with athletes and cheating politicians.

4. Don't say stupid stuff in books. Books really stick around ... and on shelves!!! And can make your "2000 and late" comment look like current events. Instead, make your racial faux pas on the Internet. Then if anything goes wrong, you can always pay a reputable search engine optimization company to make sure your bad press falls off the Google search engines.

And there you have it, people! Thank you, Senator Reid, for your wrongs. I have truly learned a lot.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
rugbymom January 12, 2010, 12:12 PM

Great article. I love hearing someone’s insight on this. I was thinking about this issue this morning. First of all, bravo to you for searching so diligently for teaching moments for your kids. They are everywhere, but like you, I’m not sure I’d be able to gleen a stellar moral lesson from this one (esp. considering my children are toddlers and the satire would be lost on them.) Lastly,I do not think his comments are inflamatory enough to warrant the backlash from this and I would think liberals would simply scoff at the remark and move on. Republicans would have put Powell in office in a hot minute if he would go for it and the same could be said of his speech. it is a moot point, IMHO. As a conservative voter,I believe the beef most people have with Obama has nothing to do with his skin or how he speaks, but rather how he votes. maybe that is naive, but I certainly hope my generation has made SOME progress!

Pamala January 12, 2010, 2:09 PM

I couldn’t see the racism in the statement at all. What I took of just the statement and the little background I got was that Reid was discussing whether or not Obama could win the election. And the answer was that basically because he isn’t dark and doesn’t “talk black” that many White people will be comfortable with him.

So you tell me, who’s that a bash on? The president or rather the White people who are too ignorant to look past skin color and dialect? I think people like to find racism where ever possible but in this situation I think this was more of a shot at older white folks than at black people.

The Analyst January 13, 2010, 3:21 AM

I totally agree with her…why is a well spoken Black person such an anomaly that being called well-spoken is construed to be a diss? Riiiight (rolls eye)….we’re living in backwards universe right now :-/

James January 13, 2010, 9:45 AM

I don’t think the issue is simply that Obama is “well spoken.”

Jesse Jackson, for example, is surely well spoken, as well — yet his style of speech openly draws on black traditions, and thus is not as welcomed by white Americans as someone who can sound variously like a Harvard professor or a midwesterner.

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