Friday, January 15, 2010


          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 



1 comment:

  1. Our country has come a long way since Martin Luther King, but I would agree racism is still alive and healthy, even in the halls of congress.

    I think our country has moved backward when it could have moved forward much more on many human - civil rights issues: take gay rights for example.

    It is the great tragedy of the last few decades for America - we were going in the right direction in the 60s and 70s - but once Reagan and his economic trickle down - supply side economics argument the American people were somehow brainwashed into believing (though no economic scholar/expert worth their salt thought trickle down economics made any sense at all) - our country has declined every so clearly into painful poverty for millions, and a rise in ignorance and expensive and mediocre education system.

    We Americans could have had much more - but the halls of power were taken over by unscrupulous corrupt individuals whose bottom line was profit for themselves - at the expense of everything that once made American great.