Archive for Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is truth a defense in a politically correct age?

January 12, 2010


— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acted like an idiot.

Also, he was right.

It’s a measure of the suffocating culture of political correctness that it feels risky to say that. It’s a measure of the insulting how-dumb-do-they-think-we-are culture of incessant partisanship that Republicans leapt on Reid’s remarks as racist.

Reid, assessing Barack Obama’s chances in 2008, cited the fact that the candidate was a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Those ill-advised comments, to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann for their new book, “Game Change,” produced an immediate apology by Reid to the president. That was followed immediately by presidential forgiveness: “As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.”

Not quite.

For a politician, especially a white politician, to comment on another politician’s race is treacherous. Just ask Joe Biden. (Remember “articulate and bright and clean,” the future vice president’s description of Obama in 2007?)

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning, although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.

So Reid, already swamped with herding 60 cats and facing a tough re-election campaign, needs this headache like he needs another Joe Lieberman. The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to The Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record.

But: there is a big difference between Reid 2008 and Jackson 1984 — or, more to the point, Lott 2002. When soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Trent Lott said that the United States could have avoided “all these problems” if Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist campaign for president had succeeded, there was an unmistakable — if unintended — whiff of racism. As much as Republican critics would like to use the incident for partisan purposes, Reid’s blundering comments were made in the context of supporting an African-American candidate, not praising a segregationist one.

Not that critics were stopped by this distinction. “These are fairly racist comments,” declared Liz Cheney on ABC’s “This Week.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who ought to have some charity toward those who say dumb things, called on Reid to step down as majority leader.

So much for the idiotic part. But, to a degree, Reid’s assessment of the salience of Obama’s skin tone was on target. Not only do we not live in a colorblind society, we live in an exquisitely color-sensitive one. A 2007 study that used magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain reactions to photos of light- and dark-skinned subjects, found more activity within the amygdala, which reflects arousal to perceived threats, when dark-skinned faces were shown. “Disconcertingly, to the extent that Afrocentric features increase the likelihood of making stereotypic inferences, this may result in severe consequences for those possessing high levels of Afrocentric features,” the authors write.

As for “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” well, do we all have to pretend we don’t know what Reid is talking about? There is a distinctly recognizable African-American voice and many African-Americans dial it up or down depending on the setting. It was striking during the campaign how Hawaii-born, Indonesia-raised, Chicago-living Obama sounded so strikingly Southern when he was campaigning in Southern states. That “blaccent” was useful to Obama in some venues. But I have little doubt that it would have been held against him by some white voters, perhaps subconsciously, if it were his regular voice.

Reid’s analysis was correct. Even if it was, as he said in a masterpiece of understatement, “a poor choice of words.”


Brent Garner 8 years, 4 months ago

So its perfectly ok for a leftist to make such even tangentially derogatory comments but if anyone of even a remotely conservative persuasion does it it is wrong? I see the democrat double standard is alive and well. Reid should resign.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

"tangentially derogatory comments"

To my knowledge, nobody has said Reid's remarks were OK. However, try as I might, I have no idea what the above phrase means.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

Tom, you are the perfect example of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican party.

georgiahawk 8 years, 4 months ago

Awareness of race and racism are two seperate things. I know it is hard to wrap your intelect around but just because a white man/woman mentions race does not make him/her a racist! What is mind numbing is the inability of both sides to have a decent conversation about any issue without trying to gain points politically. I would love to have a conversation about race, but all I have seen from the right are statements like Tom's. Basicly, "He did it, why can't I?", without ever looking seriously at the issues. Tom, I personally do not see the racism that you see in Reid's statement. It was not an insulting remark. It was not meant to stereotype or demean.

K_Verses_The_World 8 years, 4 months ago

We live in a political world Under the microscope, You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there You always got more than enough rope.

Political World Bob Dylan

Mark Zwahl 8 years, 4 months ago

Georgiahawk - good for you! You point to the real issue that we don't know how to talk about race and cultural differences. And the media's demonizing of anybody who mentions race (and those folks getting fired etc.) certainly doesn't help the conversation.

georgiahawk 8 years, 4 months ago

I lived in Kansas for 51 years, just recently moving to Georgia. I have a new perspective on race now. Kansans do not know how to play the race game. Georgians have gotten very good at it. It is not a black school that you should stay away from, rather there are academically superior schools that you should send your child to, it just so happens that all of those are predominantly white.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

“African Americans are good athlete (sic) because of the slave breeding operations.”

So, are you saying that this is a proven fact, truther?

Kirk Larson 8 years, 4 months ago

Truth is: In our somewhat racist culture, an African-American candidate needs an erudite speaking style to get elected. Truth is: A White male candidate can talk like a dumb hick and still get elected.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

"It must be hellish to be an African American in the democratic party"

Are you suggesting that it'd be heaven for them in the Republican Party?

And while you're answering that question, could you also answer my first one?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

"Does it really matter what I believe?"

Apparently you believe so, or you wouldn't be posting here.

"Because both statements were offensive yet are generally considered true. "

Reid's statements were true, but were ill-advised and poorly worded-- they certainly weren't offensive.

And the notion about "slave-breeding" is only generally considered true among diehard racists.

jimmyjms 8 years, 4 months ago

"So its perfectly ok for a leftist to make such even tangentially derogatory comments but if anyone of even a remotely conservative persuasion does it it is wrong? I see the democrat double standard is alive and well."

Uh huh. Because speaking the truth in an inelegant manner and supporting a racist are exactly the same thing!

Brent Garner doesn't get out much.

georgiahawk 8 years, 4 months ago

Jimmyjims; This is why there can be no discussion of race. When people are stuck on the fact that a black person can call another black person a n*, yet a white man cannot do the same, you are having a problem understanding what is going on and why. Without at least an understanding and recognition of the why's the discussion will be stunted. And this is only the starting point!

feeble 8 years, 4 months ago

Someone wake me up when Reid endorses a campaign platform that calls for an end to civil rights, the preservation of Segregation and the abolishment of anti-lynch laws.

Of course, he's probably going to lose his re-election bid, given his 33% approval rating in his home state. Reid's political life is over.

In other news, has Michael Steele apologized to Native Americans yet?

Left_handed 8 years, 4 months ago

bozo, You are the shining example of the intellectual bankruptcy of whatever rock from under which you crawled.

equalaccessprivacy 8 years, 4 months ago

Does Ruth Marcus's thought-provoking article define "truth" from a white, mainstream position? Often what someone deems true or factual depends on where they are standing and through what lenses they are looking at the world.The truth is usually rife with implicit cultural assumptions.

Kirk Larson 8 years, 4 months ago

Truther, Trent Lott's statement is only considered true by segregationists and White supremacists.

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