Monday, January 11, 2010

TNC on Senator Reid

Count me in the camp of folks who think Senator Reid's comments were clearly racially insensitive, but not a "racial slur". "Negro" as a referent to African-Americans is the sort of thing you say if you're totally out of touch with racial progress over the past, oh, 50 years. It's how you 75 year old great uncle from rural Kansas would put it -- he doesn't mean harm by it, he's just entirely clueless. Now, don't get me wrong, this is a bad thing -- we want our senators to have a better finger on the pulse of America's citizenry than that, and it's worrisome when they don't. But there is a qualitative difference between being that sort of person, and, say, endorsing White supremacy.

A point Ta-Nehisi Coates makes quite well:
Claiming that Harry Reid's comments are the same [as Lott's], is like claiming that referring to Jews as "Hebrews" is the same as endorsing Nazism. Whereas a reputable portion of black people still use the term Negro without a hint of irony, no black person thinks the guy yelling "Segregation Forever!" would have cured us of "all these problems."

Leaving aside political cynicism, this entire affair proves that the GOP is not simply still infected with the vestiges of white supremacy and racism, but is neither aware of the infection, nor understands the disease. Listening to Liz Cheney explain why Harry Reid's comments were racist, was like listening to me give lessons on the finer points of the comma splice. This a party, rightly or wrongly, regarded by significant portions of the country as a haven for racists. They aren't simply having a hard time re-branding, they don't actually understand how and why they got the tag.

These guys are lost. But Michael Steele's "off the hook" strategy will, presumably, point the way back. Not for nothing, I offer the wise and venerable words of my people: Negro, please.

As I've come to realize, they really believe this shit. They genuinely think that this is how racial politics work. And they are going to be woefully disappointed when the Black community doesn't respond they way the GOP expects them to.

Or perhaps alternatively, this isn't about Black people at all. This isn't about trying to level the playing field in terms of competing for Black voters. This is about blurring the line for White voters, relying on the widespread White misconception of what racism is and what is and is not racism to think that Democrats and Republicans are essentially the same (because canvassing the Black community on the matter is, of course, out of the question).


RB said...

Nothing more or less than political opportunism by the GOP.

N. Friedman said...

Leaving thoughts about Senator Reid to one side, I think RB is correct. Political opportunism.

PG said...

I think a comment on a subsequent TNC post captures the (white) conservative mindset well: "If what you were saying in the '60s turns out to have been all wrong and now gets you booted out of office for saying it, then the next logical step is to never mention race at all. To pretend to not see it. That even seems fair and right-minded to most. Which seems to be the state that Liz Cheney is at."

That is, conservatives' ability to understand what is racist is so stunted that they figure so long as they don't actually mention race, they should be safe ("Lott didn't *specify* segregation...") and anyone who does mention race can get tagged as a racist ("Reid spoke realistically about black pols' having an easier time getting elected when they are light-skinned and speak standard English! racist!").