You may have been hearing on the news recently certain comments made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid while our President was a mere senator. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the controversy, Reid was asked what he thought about Obama running for president. He responded that he thought Obama had a good chance of winning because he is “light-skinned” and doesn’t speak with a “Negro dialect.”

My reaction was similar to most everyone’s upon hearing this comment; I thought it was ignorant and an archaic use of a pseudo-offensive racial term. Yet some felt more passionately about the issue. The angry mobs took only instants to swarm, and suddenly people are demanding he step down from his position and live a life forever shamed. 

My opinion changed a little after listening to NPR on my way home from work. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was being interviewed about his upcoming health care rally, the main goal of which is to bring attention to the working poor minorities who so often get the short end of the health care stick. In the few closing questions, the interviewer asked what he thought about Reid’s comment and whether he thought the Sentate Majority Leader should step down.

“No.” He said. And he went on to say that he is not interested in discussing what he calls “gotcha phrases;” phrases that aim to catch a high-profile person red-handed. He said that he thought it was sad, the way we get so distracted by these comments, yet we are somehow not phased by the injustices promoted in our infrastructure (health care, for example). 

And I thought something really rang true about that, about our culture. It’s almost inspirational, how valiantly so many of us rose to the occasion to defend the representation of minorities– in speech. After hearing this alternative view I became almost scared at how easily I can be distracted by the flashiness of tabloid-news and still ignore issues of great depth and importance.

Read more, here

A couple of noteworthy and related things:

-Harry Reid could have been referring to actual, legitimate studies proving the likelihood of success for candidates like he described 

-The identification “Negro” is an option for race/ethnicity on the 2010 Census. A census authority stated that its inclusion is not a remnant of a racially ignorant American era, but was added to this census because so many people wrote it in on the last census (for example as Other: Negro)