Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is under attack for being a racist. He probably is
a racist, but then again we all are. America is a nation built upon the principal of white
supremacy. The late historian John Hope Franklin once told me until the United States
admits to the above observation, we can never start a constructive discussion about race.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.) is also accused of being a racist.
These two politicians are in trouble because of remarks they made about race; but there
is no comparison between the two.
Trent Lott made a toast at a dinner honoring South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond.
Thurmond had run for President as a Dixiecrat in 1948. He was an unabashed segregationist
opposed to all attempts at integration including opposition to President Truman's order to
desegregate the military. In his toast, Lott exclaimed his belief that if Thurmond had been
elected President "...we wouldn't have had all the trouble we have had in this country".
Lott proclaimed his support for a completely segregated society. He didn't do this in 1948,
but in 2002. Thurmond was one of the architects of the Republican Party's "southern
strategy" along with Richard Nixon and others. The strategy entailed pitting white voters
against black voters. Republicans played on the fears of white southerners that the Democrats,
who pushed through the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and the Public Accommodations
Act, would continue to expand rights for minorities at the expense of white jobs and white
culture. The strategy worked to perfection and the South became a solid block of Republican
white voters and remains that way today. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, he is purported to have said "Today we lost the South". The
"southern strategy" was designed to take advantage of the national racism in this country;
and Thurmond, Nixon, and Lott worked it for all it was worth. Lott went on to actively
oppose the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, the renewal of the Voting Rights Act,
and other racially charged progressive issues. Lott's personal history and his congressional
voting record showed his continuing efforts to deny minorities equal rights and his praise
for Thurmond condemned him as unrepentant.
Harry Reid made a comment about the electability of Barack Obama. He said since
Obama is light skinned and has no "negro" accent, except when he wants to have one, Obama
has a good chance of being elected President. Reid's comments are insensitive because how
someone looks or speaks should not be the subject of a question about Presidential
electability, especially if they are black. However, Reid's comments happen to be true from
a purely pragmatic point of view. His take on the American landscape is that Americans will
be more comfortable with a black candidate as long as he is not too black. Ironically, Reid's
remarks should stimulate discussions on whether he is right or not. If he is right, what does
that say about race relations in this country? Reid encouraged Barack Obama to run for
President. Reid has been a strong supporter of civil rights legislation and the expansion of
minority rights. Reid is a member of a Democratic Party with numerous minority members
in Congress. The Republican Party does not have one single African-American member of
Congress. Reid is a member of the Democratic Party which has pushed through all the major
Civil Rights legislation. As President Obama said, Harry Reid has always been on the right
side of history.
There is no equivalency between Lott's and Reid's remarks, their voting records, or
the political parties of which they are members; and this is the most disquieting thing about
this latest kerfuffle. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, Texas Senator John Cornyn,
and others have called on Reid to step down just as Lott had to step down after his remarks.
Hanbaugh and Faux News have joined in the chorus of calls condemning Reid.
Reid isn't going to step down. His party understands the difference between his remarks
and Lott's, and they know both Senator's backstories. However, I am troubled by the attempt
to conflate Lott's and Reid's comments and the claim that they are similar in content, meaning,
and intentions. Race is still one of the most difficult and touchy subjects in this country. That
public figures could get away with comparing Lott's and Reid's remarks is proof of the failure
of journalism to do it's job and call out those who want to say the comments reflect the same
prejudice and bigotry. Why this condemnation of Reid from a party with the history of the
Republican Party hasn't resulted in cries of "hypocrite" is astonishing. That Reid's remarks
have not sparked an open dialogue on whether he was right; and if so, what that says about
the subject of race in this nation is tragic.
Harry Reid and Trent Lott are both racist! The difference is Reid has worked to change
public policy by expanding the rights of minorities and heads a party with a history of doing
just that. He represents the party that recently elected our nation's first black president.
Trent Lott, on the other hand, publicly praised segregationists when he wistfully suggested
Thurmond should have been elected President. He is a member of a party which embraced
a strategy to amplify racism for political gain. He is a member of a party which has fought
expanding minority rights and doesn't have a single African-American member in Congress.
America is still a nation built on the concept of white supremacy. Americans still have
yet to confront racism and its effects on everything from education to employment to
interpersonal relationships. If you want proof, just look at the Republicans and how they
would compare Reid's and Lott's comments simply to gain political advantage from the
comparison. Their actions show that we as a nation have a long way to go before we can
honestly expect to rise above the temptation of judging and likewise being judged on anything
other than character. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.
Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org