Harry Reid and “Negro Dialect”

Amazon.Amazon.Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is getting slammed for this, from John Heileman and Mark Halperin’s gossipy book on the 2008 campaign, Game Change:

[Reid] was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama—a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” as he said privately.

Reid apologized for the “poor choice of words,” and President Obama accepted the apology, but Republicans are still demanding that Reid resign. Kevin says “This whole thing is ridiculous” and Reid “didn’t say anything offensive anyway,” and points readers to Mark Kleinman’s excellent post defending Reid. Conservative columnist George Will also thinks Reid didn’t say anything wrong. Ezra Klein says he’s “trying really hard to understand why Harry Reid’s comments about Barack Obama’s electability were offensive.” As Kevin said, the feigned outrage from congressional Republicans is fairly predictable—anything that damages Reid tends to help Mitch McConnell’s guys. But it’s definitely worth taking a long look at some of the criticism of Reid’s from people who don’t have so much to gain from damaging Reid politically. Jack and Jill Politics’ rikyrah, for example, says “this is the kind of mess that just angers me”:

There were whole swaths of Black folk who were educated BEFORE the Civil Rights Movement.

W-T-F is NEGRO DIALECT?

NEGRO DIALECT?

Do you honestly believe that Black people walk around talking Ebonics? That you aren’t talking about a SUBSET of people?

That the overwhelming majority of BLACK people with BLACK parents IN AMERICA were raised speaking the ‘ King’s English’, and that we were liable to get hurt if we didn’t.

This was an insult by Reid, but guess what, it’s not an insult that any other EDUCATED BLACK PERSON hasn’t heard in their lifetime.

The whole, they know you went to college and graduate/professional school, but will utter the words – to your face-

‘ you speak so well.’

Matt Yglesias’ take on this—that’s it really sort of impossible to apologize for being the kind of person who would use the phrase “Negro dialect” or the kind of person who would be surprised that Obama “speaks well”—is also worth a read. What do you guys think?

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.