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Published: Saturday, 1/16/2010

Reid should keep his seat

BY ROSE RUSSELL

PLEASE. Let's be frank about this.

What Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said about then-Sen. Barack Obama was what a lot of people, black and white, probably thought, even if they didn't say it.

Some probably made a similar comment, even if the sentiment was stated differently.

In a book published this week, Senator Reid is quoted as describing President Obama as "light-skinned" and as having "no Negro dialect."

Well, duh. He was right, but some black Americans are thoroughly offended while others shrugged off the Nevada Democrat's remarks.

I'm somewhere in between, and in fact, I probably lean more toward the latter view.

That is not to say the issue does not deserve comment, because Mr. Reid's remarks stirred up an issue in the black community that we usually prefer not to discuss openly.

Though the devastating earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday thrust the controversy about the senator's remarks from the headlines, Senator Reid, still faces an uphill battle for his future in politics.

The debate was thrown into the public forefront with the release of Time magazine's Mark Halperin's and New York magazine's John Heilemann's book, Game Change. The authors captured some of the candidates' behind-the-scenes statements during the 2008 presidential race.

In all fairness, the book also records that Mr. Reid encouraged Mr. Obama to run for president. Yet despite that information, many are still calling for the senator's head.

Senator Reid, though, has apparently had limited contact with blacks, who do not all speak with a "Negro dialect," whatever that is.

Although he might as well have said that the President "sounds white" - the description hung on African-Americans who speak proper English - I presume his statement referred to something akin to ebonics, the so-called language that is an excuse for not using the King's English and that many blacks absolutely abhor.

Sadly, such statements show that the senator doesn't understand that African-Americans are not a homogeneous group.

Like others, we vary in our experiences, background, goals, and physical features, and that includes - hello! - skin color.

And as do some of you, I know black men and women who are very dark- skinned and others who could live easily as a white person, and their parents are not interracial, as are our President's.

This much is certain: There is no excuse for a member of the U.S. Senate to use an outdated description of black Americans or any other group. Use of the word "Negro" suggests Senator Reid was stuck in the pre-civil rights era.

But now, like it or not, the controversy has jolted him into the 21st century.

He has apologized to the President, whose gracious response was anticipated: "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed" on the issue, he said.

Mr. Reid also needlessly genuflected before the altar of various self-appointed black leaders, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Now, it's easy to have more respect for Harry Reid's honesty than for Michael Steele's arrogant emoting.

Mr. Steele, who is black, is chairman of the Republican National Committee. He labeled Mr. Reid's remarks "ignorant" and called for him to resign.

It's pretty obvious that the GOP has a lot of time and few serious issues on its hands.

There's no need for Mr. Reid to resign. As a matter of fact, the Reno, Nev., NAACP president was not offended.

Lonnie Feemster said: "Senator Reid was talking about the nuances of the majority white voter's perception of a black candidate."

It would do the nation more good for Michael Steele to tender his resignation as chairman of the RNC than for Mr. Reid to give up his Senate seat.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at rrussell@theblade.com



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