Blacks weigh in on Harry Reid's racial comments(Read article summary)
In one corner of Atlanta, at least, Senate majority leader Harry Reid's racially insensitive comments about Barack Obama don't seem to be worthy of much concern.
Washington is obsessed by Senator Reidâ€™s observation in 2008 â€“ and made public Saturday â€“ that Barack Obama was electable because he is â€ślight-skinnedâ€ť and has â€śno Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
Republicans have called on Reid to step down. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele (who is black) called the statement a return to Jim Crow ideas.
So the Monitor did a curbside survey of what black Atlantans think of Reidâ€™s statement â€“ random and unscientific, yes, but also somewhat instructive.
Six of the 10 people asked had never heard of the comments. Yet even when they were read the quote, umbrage was scarce.
Not hopping mad anymore
Willie Blair, a 60-something Atlantan, would have been hopping mad upon hearing those kinds of words from the mouth of an older white man years ago.
But today, Mr. Blair says, itâ€™s just a case of a throwaway comment being magnified beyond its importance.
â€śSometimes people mean what they say, and sometimes they let a word just slip out,â€ť he says, referring to Reidâ€™s anachronistic use of the word â€śNegro.â€ť
Republicans say Reid is benefiting from a double standard. Republican Senate majority leader Trent Lott was ousted in 2002 for lauding the career of former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, who once led a segregationist party challenge in the South.
Why shouldnâ€™t Reid be ousted, too? they ask.
It is a double-standard, Blair says. But â€śitâ€™s just the way things are,â€ť he adds.
Graphic artist Clarence Jones, walking to work on a chilly afternoon, said heâ€™d never heard of the Reid imbroglio.
Still, what does he think?
Amused more than anything, he says. He suggests that Mr. Obama â€“ though he was only a candidate in 2008 â€“ may simply have created a different, slightly less constrained atmosphere for talking about race in America, even then. Obama has referred to himself as a â€śmutt,â€ť and, as Jones puts it, a half-breed, setting a new tone.
â€śItâ€™s Obama himself who has made it possible to make a comment like that,â€ť he says.
One voice of anger
But if Jones says itâ€™s good for America to relax a bit when talking about race, Robert Wade, found huddling in his buddyâ€™s pickup truck on Atlantaâ€™s Hosea Williams Avenue, pipes up with the lone voice of condemnation in this nonscientific survey
â€śI was offended,â€ť says Mr. Wade. â€śHe should step down.â€ť
His friend, Arvin Freeman, says Reid and Obama have much bigger fish to fry for an awkward, two-year-old utterance to get in the way of Obamaâ€™s legislative agenda, healthcare reform chief among them.
Besides, Mr. Freeman says, â€śItâ€™s in our nature to talk, and you canâ€™t stop people from talking.â€ť
In the same neighborhood, Michelle Veerasawmy agrees that Reid â€śmade the wrong statement at the wrong time,â€ť but that â€śheâ€™s of the peopleâ€ť and shouldnâ€™t step down.
Besides, she says, Reid seemed to have gotten his cadence and meaning from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who in 1995 conceded that, â€śI speak reasonably well, like a white person,â€ť and, visually, â€śI ainâ€™t that black.â€ť
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