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Rod Blagojevich, Harry Reid and shades of blackness

Leave it to disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to give me an opportunity to add something new to the nonsense surrounding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that goes beyond the terrific pieces by Colbert King and Ruth Marcus.

Blagojevich is quoted in this month's Esquire magazine saying, "I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived."

Blagojevich's black-by-osmosis is as ridiculous as my trying to claim being more Italian than Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi because I can speak Italian, went to Italy twice a year for 11 years with my (now ex) Italian partner and love pasta.

But Reid's shocking unfamiliarity with African Americans is as offensive as Blagojevich's claim to honorary blackness.

As Marcus notes, Reid told a political truth. But, as Joe Scarborough said today when I was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the Nevada senator sounded like he was "at a white southern country club in the 1950's." And in doing so, Reid hit two third rails for the African American community.

Talking about shades of blackness is explosive. Lighter skinned African Americans have long been seen as having an "unfair" advantage over other blacks in securing aspects of the American dream. Watch Spike Lee's 1988 film "School Daze" to see how sensitive this issue is among blacks.

Reid's use of the word "Negro," after all these years in Democratic politics, is inexcusable. African Americans are the base of the party, and Reid has blacks in senior positions on his staff. That the word flowed so easily from his lips makes me wonder whether he has listened to the black voices around him, knows or understands who they are or what's important to them. That he claims he was saying this in an off-the-record conversation makes what he said even more alarming. What else does he say in private?

Reid spent the weekend apologizing to Obama and anyone else who wanted an apology. Apology accepted. Now, keep your mouth shut. Blagojevich apologized this morning on a Chicago radio station. Apology accepted. Now, go away.

By Jonathan Capehart  | January 11, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

Hey, what should one expect from the party of the slavery and civil war.......

Reid dissed the 1st affirmative action President......

Posted by: georgedixon1 | January 11, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

My question is about a possible cultural difference between the President and "African Americans". He does not have the family linkage that one thinks of when thinking of the African American. That is family with direct linkage to American slavery. He was not raised in the projects of one of our large urban areas and he did not attend one of our more "infamous" inner city public schools. He did not attend a historical black college but rather attended Ivy League schoools. His mother was white his father a foreign national, Kenyan. He was raised by a white grandmother. Though I believe him to be an American I see him more as a distinct, unique and quite great representation of America as the "melting pot". This is just a perspective, a personal perspective of our President. I think he should see himself and should be seen more as an American coalescence. But then, what or how I see him is not as important as how he sees himself.

Posted by: staterighter | January 11, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

My question is about a possible cultural difference between the President and "African Americans". He does not have the family linkage that one thinks of when thinking of the African American. That is family with direct linkage to American slavery. He was not raised in the projects of one of our large urban areas and he did not attend one of our more "infamous" inner city public schools. He did not attend a historical black college but rather attended Ivy League schoools. His mother was white his father a foreign national, Kenyan. He was raised by a white grandmother. Though I believe him to be an American I see him more as a distinct, unique and quite great representation of America as the "melting pot". This is just a perspective, a personal perspective of our President. I think he should see himself and should be seen more as an American coalescence. But then, what or how I see him is not as important as how he sees himself.

Posted by: staterighter | January 11, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I don’t understand the apoplexy over Reid’s truthful comments. Most people think using Negro is a little strange but considering his age I don’t think the majority of blacks/African Americans/Negroes would see it as offensive. Negro is still on the census because people wrote it in. People seem to forget that just a few years ago Time magazine, which employs one of the book’s writers, darken O.J. Simpson’s photo. People knew why – lighter skinned blacks are not as “frightening/menacing”. Let’s not pretend that color and shades of color don’t matter. They still do. We also know that today people still say to blacks “how articulate” not matter how well educated they are.

Absolutely no comparison to Lott who said that if segregationist Thurmond had won the country would have been better off. Lott's statement said the country shouldn't have had civil rights, etc.

Posted by: rlj1 | January 11, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Puleeze, how is Harry Reid's comments any more or less offense than all the opining that went on during the election campaigning in regards to was Obama black enough. Or was that an "A and B" conversation that whites should have Seen their way out of.

Posted by: snake_taylor | January 11, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

There is a double standard in this country...Democrats are given a "pass" when caught making racists comments. Republicans are crucified and run out of town. Harry Reid should resign...he must be held to the same partisan racist standards that are defined by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as well as his own fellow democrats. Harry, ya shoulda knoooowwwwn bettah! (Rev. Right's Dialect)

Posted by: aliceaddertongue | January 11, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Very well said. Harry Reid can apologize all he wants but his tone and meaning were very clear - and very offensive - no matter what the color of a person's skin. He is toast and should follow Christopher's Dood's lead - retire.

Posted by: pjsilva | January 11, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Well, I can out-honorary-black the Blah Goy any day. I'm white, but my wife is black. And you know what? Reid may have spoken stupidly, but he was right. If Obama was as dark as my stepson Dominique or my stepdaughter Alicia, I doubt that he'd be president today.

Interesting sub-fact for you: for a long time my wife worried that if she spent too much time in the sun, she'd darken up and I wouldn't love her any more. Truth is, I don't care. But her previous (black) husband *did* care about her complexion.

What with living in Florida and being an outdoors kind of guy (except now, with Florida being an honorary part of New England at the moment), I'm not exactly the lightest-skinned Jew on the Gulf Coast, y'know? My Mexican boxing coach buddy, Aaron, is lighter than I am. For him and me it's a joke. We just don't care. And when (dark) stepson Dominique was visiting from Baltimore, he was totally accepted at Aaron's gym.

Some of us, like, you know, sort of live outside the usual U.S. racial boundaries. We really *do* judge our friends (and wives and husbands) by the content of their characters, not their skin colors. The rest of you will catch up to us one day. Or you won't. Whatever.

Posted by: roblimo | January 11, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I guess the Osmonds were blacker than the Jacksons... I guess Mick Jagger is blacker than Rick James...

As for Reid....if he wanted to really add insult to injury...what would have the results been if the term "red bone" was used instead light-skinned. I guess if he would have used the word "colored" I think there would have been riots in the streets.

Weren't we all happy when we lived in the land of Opray Winfrey, Bryant Gumbel, Halle Berry, and Wesley Snipes. Did we all sigh with relief with Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll?

C'mon in the real world...the question is always; describe the black person. The answer is: light-skinned, medium or dark. Remember the operative word is "black" person.

I know that every member at their local Black Student Union on every white campus...is having good laugh at the expense of their NAACP affiliation.

roblimo; blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.

Posted by: PowerandPride | January 11, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Good post.

Here's some hilarious YouTube parody about Blago's comment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RW-M8ambsxg

Posted by: SloppyJoes | January 11, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capehart:
I have a problem with a double standard here. You said in your article: "Reid's use of the word "Negro," after all these years in Democratic politics, is inexcusable."
Reid will never resign and Obama wouldn't let him because he needs him too much to get his health care passed, but you state that using the word negro is inexcusable, yet all of Obama's African American supporters are quick to say Reid is a good man, poor wording, apology accepted. If after the results of the election were announced, and Obama declared the winner, would Senator McCain have been forgiven if he had said that "Obama won the election because he was light skinned, spoke not like a negro would and the American people were so fed up with republicans that he might be elected as the first non white President and that is why he was the democratic nominee."? He would be basically saying the exact same thing that Reid is saying in why he supported Obama in the first place. Would all you pundits have been out crucifying McCain for stating what you now say is basically the truth spoken by Reid but put inartfully?

Posted by: justmyvoice | January 11, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

As ham-handed as Reid's comments were, there is more than a grain of truth in what he said. And every black American knows it.

Smart black kids (and I vividly remember) being chastised by other black kids for "speaking 'white'." Black fraternities and sororities frequently determined membership with the "brown paper bag test." You were more likely to get in if you were lighter than the bag. Dark-skinned blacks are considered scary, criminal and "ape-ish."

What Reid was trying to say is that Barack Obama came to the party with the "right stuff." He was, as Joe Biden said, "good-looking, articulate and clean." More to the point, he had the Ivy League education, was not a "mush-mouth" (as my father used to call anyone who couldn't speak clearly), he spoke "white" when he needed to and could speak "black" when it worked. White people felt comfortable with him: he was just black enough to be black, but not too black to be scary.

Really, Jonathan, how could you forget all of the hours spent on Morning Joke discussing whether Obama was black enough, or too black, whether black people would vote for the not-so-black guy, or white people would vote for the guy they couldn't decide was too black or not black? Why doesn't Obama do more stuff to be more white, you were asked. Like bowling?

Hillary Clinton mused Obama wasn't white enough for the "real Americans, you know the hard-working" (as if blacks are all lazy) "white Americans" in Appalachia (who have some of the highest rates of unemployment in the country).

Harry Reid was speaking the truth. It came out clumsily, but it was -- and is -- the truth.

Tell me, Jonathan, why is it that MSNBC cannot find a black male -- aside from "guest" appearances by columnists like you and Eugene Robinson -- to anchor ANY of their shows? What? Carlos Watson was too black? He spoke "white" enough for CNN, but not white enough for MSNBC? He was too dark-skinned?

Harry Reid wasn't being racist, just admitting an awkward truth.

Posted by: jade_7243 | January 11, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

The old days: I'm more conservative than Reagan.

These days: I'm more blacker than Obama.

Different eras, same nonsense.

Posted by: cdreimer | January 11, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Total Hypocrasy;
Thank you water carriers in the useless media as you fawn for your mesiah.
Hey Congress;
Do you hear that noise behind you? Thats the unbathed masses preparing to FIRE YOU!
Hey UHHH UHHHH UHHHH Obama, We know your hurry to turn this country into a welfare stae but, 2010, You are SOOOO fired!!!
And its your half black side well fire!

Posted by: eviltaxpayer | January 11, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the word "Negro" is obviously offensive.

Posted by: scvaughan | January 12, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

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