Happy Birthday (celebrated) to one of my favorite people! Judging by the picture shown here, my guess is that Harry Reid would refer (in private) to MLK as a "medium-skinned African-American." And from the speech I listen to every year on this date (try it, you'll like it), I'm pretty sure the Senator would say he speaks with a "Negro dialect."
But if you could talk to him right now, what do you think Dr. King would say about the Senator's controversial comments regarding Barack Obama? I bet it would go something like this:
We have a Negro President!?!? Holy Fucking Shit! We have a Negro President!OK, fine, I'm just speculating here, and yes, whatever Dr. King said would almost certainly be a bit more eloquent. But I'm going to celebrate the man's birthday with a few observations on the most recent racial scandal.
Racist, un-PC, or both?
Many made the point, but since we normally skewer the guy for the nonsense he puts out, I'm going to give props to Jeff Jacoby for finally writing something half-intelligent. In his column earlier this week, he managed to state the obvious truth that what Harry Reid said was NOT racist. He even went so far as to criticize Republican chairman Michael Steele for saying that Reid got caught "saying racist things." "Negro" may be politically incorrect (for whatever that's worth), but it's a category in the Census, has many other uses, and, as Jacoby points out, Reid is old and has seen several terms used for "African-American," so who cares? Like the mom in Bloom County who didn't understand why we could say United Negro College Fund and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but couldn't say "Negro" or "colored" [note: the politically correct term at the time was "people of color"]. What Harry Reid said might not have been PC, but it wasn't racist by any stretch. At worst, he was speculating too harshly on racism he perceived in the American electorate. Remember when we could laugh at this stuff?
Accusations of racism are thrown around too lightly. As the always-entertaining and enlightening Christopher Hitchens points out in this interview:
Actually, from some people I don't even care if I'm being called a racist. Their standards have become so low that it doesn't hurt like it should . . . And, by the way, that's a disaster. Racism should be a severe accusation. It should be something you are afraid of.And so truly racist people are able to defend themselves by saying they're just being unfairly attacked by the "politically correct." As David Cross writes to Larry the Cable Guy:
Yeah, so Larry the Cable Guy might be racist. Thank you, David, for calling him out. Harry Reid just might have been a bit un-PC.
You took umbrage at my calling a lot of your act anti-gay and racist and said that "...according to Cross and the politically correct police, any white comedians who mention the word 'black' or say something humorous but faintly negative about any race are racists." Well, first of all, your act is racist. Maybe not all the time, but it certainly can be. Here, let me quote you back, word for word, some of your "faintly negative" humor and I'll let people judge for themselves.
* * *
"Let me ask some of these commie rag head carpet flying wicker basket on the head balancing scumbags something!"
* * *
"What the hell is this the cartoon network? The Republicans had a muslim give the opening prayer at there (sic) convention! What the hell's going on around here! Is Muslim now the official religion of the United States!...First these peckerheads (...) fly planes into towers and now theys (sic) prayin' before conventions! People say not all of em did that and I say who gives a rats fat ass! That's a fricken slap in the face to New York city by having some muslim sum-bitch give the invocation at the republican convention! This country pretty much bans the Christian religion (the religion of George Washington and John Wayne) virtually from anything public and then they got us watchin' this muslim BS!! Ya wanna pray to allah then drag yer flea infested ass over to where they pray to allah at!" End Quote. So...yeah. There you go.
The double-standard double-standard
The "liberal double-standard" feigned outrage of the Fox-Republican-righty blogosphere coalition is always tiresome, but in this case there's simply no case. Steele cries foul:
“What’s interesting here, is when Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough. If that had been [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that about an African-American candidate for president of the president of the United States, trust me, this chairman and the [Democratic National Committee] would be screaming for his head, very much as they were with Trent Lott.”Of course what Lott said, in a public setting, was "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform. Lott had made similar remarks before at a rally in Mississippi in 1980, "You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today." Lott claimed he wasn't talking about segregation, but fiscal conservatism. That seems implausible, but I guess within the realm of possibility. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page hammered Trent Lott for this. Lott made repeated public remarks that at best expressed nostalgia for racial segregation; Reid used an un-PC term about a President he supported. Every right-wing pundit who used the Lott-Reid comparison to "prove," once again, that the left maintains a double standard on race is full of crap. The two events simply aren't comparable.
Of course, the Democrats are entirely consistent on the race issue. They'll use the facts that there are no black Republicans in congress, blacks vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and Republican supporters are overwhelmingly white to attack the Republicans as racist every chance they get. They've always done this and always will. The Republicans are perceived as weak on race and the Democrats will take advantage. Just as the Republicans do on national security with their "double standard" regarding failed shoe bomber ("see, we need Bush's policies to keep us safe! Damn liberals!") and failed underwear bomber ("see, Obama's not protecting us! Damn liberals!").
To be PC in the 21st century, Harry Reid should have stuck to "African-American." And one might say we should let people be called whatever they want. The problem is that "African-American" is a terribly imprecise term to use to denote a person's race. Dark-skinned twins from Angola leave home: one moves to NYC, the other to London. One's now an African-American, the other is not. Does anyone in the world believe they're not of the same race?
So who cares? Well, there are consequences. In 2007, commentators on Jackie Robinson Day came out in droves to decry how Jackie would be disapointed with the racial make-up of today's Major League Baseball rosters, noting that only 8-9% of players were African-American. A representative article by ESPN's John Helyar lists MLB's African-American players. Missing from the list, among many others, are the following:
Those guys are all blacker than "African-American" Derek Jeter, but they don't count because they're not American and therefore not African-American. But they certainly couldn't have played before Jackie broke the color barrier. MLB has grown steadily less American, you see, and therefore less everything-American. It's certainly gotten steadily less white.
But at least the fact is true. The worst part is some headlines actually read "Baseball only 8% Black", which is just plain wrong. But you can't blame them for being confused. Just take a look (an actual "look") at any MLB team and it screams racial diversity.
Such bad terms for race lead to things like white South Africans being able to get credit on college applications by checking the "African" box and educators bemoaning the racial mix at Harvard by noting that most of the blacks aren't African-American.
But after all this, I'd have to break the news to Dr. King that we actually have a white President. You see, his mother was white. Oh no wait, my bad. By current racial accounting rules you have to have 100% pure white blood all the way down the line to qualify as white. Any African heritage at all qualifies you — like Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, and Lenny Kravitz — as African-American. Now how racist is that?
But if you want to take the edge off some of the cynicism . . .
Not bad, huh?