Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Harry Reid, Negro

The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site reports that in the 1930s, its magazine

urged members to organize to support "the outlawing of the Poll Tax, the development of a Public Health Program, an Anti-lynching Bill, the end of discrimination in the Armed Forces, Defense Plants, Government Housing Plans and finally that Negro History be taught in the Public Schools."

At the time, the organization “joined with other major civil rights organizations to address racial and gender discrimination in New Deal and wartime policies and press for the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC).” By 1960, it had “shifted its primary focus to housing” and now, according to its own website, it is active in a variety of causes, including teaming with the National Institutes of Health to fight obesity in the African-American community.

What is this organization? It’s the National Council of Negro Women, not to be confused with the National Association of Colored People. It’s something to remember, given that in “Game Change,” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write that during the 2008 presidential primary season, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s

encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Back when Harry Reid was a young man, “Negro” (pronounced differently)- “black” in Spanish- was an improvement upon “colored.” At one time, worshippers on Sunday joyfully sang hymns of praise to God. Reportedly

Because slaves were often banned from using musical instruments, they created complex voice harmonies. The words of the songs were often taken from stories in the Bible that told about freedom and hope for a better future.

Alas, these were called not “African-American spirituals,” but instead “Negro spirituals,” such as this one (video below).

Of course, Reid did not refer to “Negroes” but to a “Negro dialect.” The media could have probed this issue of a distinct “Negro dialect,” but that would have required thoughtful consideration of an issue the Majority Leader raised, rather than recourse to characterizing Reid as a racist, or defending him from such charges. It would not have been nearly as much fun, only more informative and enlightening.

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