"thought that Barack Obama could win the presidency because he was "light-skinned" and did not use a "Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."Aside from the clunky use of the term negro – I think the analysis is spot on. Not to mention something that you’d find general agreement with in any Black Studies department. Americans are racist, white supremacists straight up.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, and even as it is obviously not a good thing, it is understandable. The African American experience has, and continues to define us. It is an ethnicity that against all odds has persevered – holding on to its singular heritage, carrying with it both the dysfunction of genocidal brutality, and the wisdom and innovation of a people who have found ways to not only hold on to their identity but continually push the boundaries of what is culturally possible under centuries of oppression.
And America is what it is because of our racial history – both our greatest expressions of freedom and our worst savage excesses. Obama is an exemplar of this contradiction. He is what he is both because of and despite of who he is, and who we are. As a country we have been through so much, and from the beginning have reached for the highest rung despite it always being just beneath our grasp. As such our narrative has been one of epic triumph – and epic failure. The two define each other tragically. Even as we elect the first African American to highest public office, we have people casting the most vile and racist attacks – their seething hatred couched as it often is behind thin veils of humor.
As expressed in the words Obama himself reiterated, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice”, humanity is searching for freedom, even as it is far from there yet. There is no evidence that any such objective morality exists, but as defined by the basic human impulse to apply one’s own aspirations to those of his fellow man, our biological predisposition is indeed toward empathy and fairness.
Harry Reid is a leader of the party that, although having not always done so in the past, currently spends much of its time seeking ways to redress the imperfections of our past, expressed as they are in the social and demographic stratifications we see at present. Where its opponents see equality and freedom, it sees inequality and struggle. So it would stand to reason that he would see the historic achievement of Obama’s election in the context of a society still struggling to attain what it would ultimately like to see but presently finds itself incapable of adequately fulfilling.
Reid's remarks have been portrayed as out-of-touch, if not racist. Republican chair Michael Steele responded that
It's an old mind-set when you're using language in 2008 that harkens back to the 1950s and '60s...Yet his own party almost unanimously holds the view that there exists little racism in American society today, and the little that does is irrelevant to the equality of opportunity that exists for all races. This despite the fact that we see large gaps in achievement between whites and blacks. What his party fails to do is distinguish the difference between the opportunity that exists and the means with which one is able to attain it. Therefore they make no distinction between the young boy growing up in poverty and the boy growing up heir to a fortune. That the two should be allowed by society to grow up and suffer two distinct fates is not perceived as an injustice as all by Republicans. Democrats on the other hand, see this as a grave misfortune, especially as it is a direct result of the immoral social arrangement of past generations.
And so the real gaffe here is not that of Harry Reid, intent as he is on creating a more just and equitable society, where all men are truly free to achieve their dreams. Instead it is the continuing gaffe of Republican thought that speaks of a hollow freedom in which all men are purported to be free, yet who in reality are born to live out lives of desperation and pain. It is a smothering gaffe that seeks to rewrite history while absolving guilt or responsibility.
As a fellow Democrat, Obama's response highlighted the difference:
I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice, and I know what's in his heart.