REID-ing a LOTT of History

Have we noticed that I’m into name-related puns?

The political world has been whipped into a frenzy over the book Game Change, which lays out a luscious banquet of tantalizing details of both sides of the 2008 presidential campaign, if you’re into that kind of thing. While Sarah Palin was portrayed as the least appetizing personality (duh), one of the bombshells of the book has been the comment of Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. Apparently he made a comment about Obama being electable b/c he’s “light-skinned” and has “no Negro dialect, unless he wants one”. If that makes someone electable, then I will most likely be the next President.

Harry said something that was, maybe not inaccurate when you consider the racist attitudes of some of the electorate, but at best an extremely poor choice of words & at worst pretty racist. It’s more of a head-shaker b/c outside of the 2010 census, you’re not likely to hear the word “negro” a lot.

Of course the ever rational Republican political leadership issued a cry of feigned outrage, calling for Reid’s resignation (by the same folks who brought you Barack the Magic Negro). Trent Lott was run out of town for less! They exclaim. But was it really less?

What Harry Reid said was not okay. What Trent Lott said speaks to an overarching ideology of racist, white supremacist politics & policy. Lott said that the country would be in better shape today had we elected Strom Thurmond to the Presidency 40 years ago. Thurmond ran as a Segregationist on a platform of “separate but equal” and continuing the Jim Crow laws that kept people separate but certainly not equal. Lott didn’t use any specifically racist language, while Reid did.

Why shouldn’t Reid step down? Because his poorly chosen words spoke to the electability of one candidate. Lott’s statements revealed a belief amongst conservative politicians (his remarks were wildly applauded by the event’s attendees) that had white men maintained the upper hand in all things (because they haven’t?) we wouldn’t be in this [insert crisis] predicament.

Another thing about this is how concerned we are with correct language and yet how content we are with institutional inequality. I’m speaking now not only of race but also of gender, religion, sexual orientation and ability. Politically correct language has evolved and devolved and gone in and out of fashion and it’s part of the issue, but not all. It’s like putting lipstick on the proverbial pig. Speaking to and about people is part of the equation but it doesn’t change people’s inner thoughts, feelings and motivations. If one is deft enough with the language one can justify any situation. I’d like to see this political gaffe used constructively to speak to why what Harry Reid said is true in some parts of the electorate and why it shouldn’t be.

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