Race

What Is Being 'Light Skinned' With 'No Negro Dialect'?

In 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referenced then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a i i

In 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referenced then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
In 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referenced then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a

In 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referenced then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Alex Wong/Getty Images

If you listened to Monday's Tell Me More, you heard the word "negro" dropped casually more than a few times.

(FYI, it's not our standard practice.)

We were compelled to report on a recent revelation of comments made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. A new book, Game Change, recaptures a reference Reid made regarding then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

There has been a resounding call from the right (namely, in the person of GOP chairman Michael Steele) for Reid to resign his leadership post. The GOP compares Reid's flap to the following comments in 2002, made by then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott regarding the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina who was a known segregationist:

When Strom Thurmond ran for president [as a Dixiecrat in 1948], we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

Lott resigned his top post soon after, following strong backlash.

I'll let NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin entertain the "should Reid stay or go?" debate. I, however, am more interested in gauging thoughts on rhetoric and as Obama recently described to TV One, Reid's "inartful [but not ill-willed]" use of words.

Is "negro" one of those nauseatingly offensive terms used to define black Americans?

And what about the "light-skinned" reference?

Intra-racially (among black Americans), colorism has long been an issue. By that I mean, hierarchal measurements of class and overall attractiveness solely rooted in skin tone has been an unfortunate mainstay within communities of color. The following age-old saying comes to mind:

If you're black, get back; if you're brown, stick around; If you're light, you're alright.

The implication, of course, is that light skin is more socially palatable than dark skin.

But what happens when we learn that white people, too, even men as "respectable" as Sen. Reid, are having such conversations?

Pardon me, as I do hereby defer to the ladies of ABC's "The View":

Obviously, it depends who you ask.

When we launched Tell Me More in 2007, we did so with the idea of it being "a safe place for difficult conversations."

So consider this a founder's moment.

What does being 'light-skinned' with 'no negro dialect' really mean?

For the black-, negro-, African-American, I think I might have a clue (full disclosure: I am African-American), but I'd still like to hear more. Although I'm particularly interested in hearing from the "other." If you are white-, European-, Asian-American or Latino (basically, non-black), I want to hear from you.

... And I want to know your thinking behind Sen. Reid's comments.

Really.

(By the way, our second "negro"-themed conversation focused on how, when choosing ancestry, some will be asked to choose among African American, Black or, Negro on the 2010 census. You can grind your ax, or not, on this page.)

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