It has been discussed here in a number of threads what Harry Reid has been reported as saying about Obama, and whether or not his statements are racist. Democrats have compared in a number of articles what Reid said to what Trent Lott, the ex-Majority Leader of the Senate, and a Republican from Mississippi.
Well, let’s begin with Reid’s comments as reported in the book, Game Change. The authors report that Reid said, privately, “…amid all the talk of Obama’s oratorical gifts, he (Reid) let slip something else: Obama could win the White House because he was a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

To figure out whether or not this is bigoted, let’s dissect these sentences into their component parts. First, Obama could win the White House because he was a light-skinned African-American. Exactly, what is racist about this statement? A colleague of mine has published a number of articles showing that both whites and African-Americans tend to think better of ‘light-skinned’ African-Americans. So, what Reid said is just a statement of fact, that white voters especially would tend to be less guarded about voting for a lighter skinned individual, than a counterpart with much darker complexion.
Second, Reid said Obama doesn’t have a Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one. Well, first of all, this statement is once again true. Anyone who paid attention to the election campaign, Obama uses a different dialect when speaking to primarily white audiences than when he is speaking to people of color. Clinton did the exact same thing through his presidency. The other thing that should be noted is that Reid used the term ‘Negro.’ Well, how can this word be a racist term? It doesn’t have a derogatory meaning, or even a derogatory implication. It’s just not the current term of art (politically correct terminology).
A good friend of mine has been a superintendent of schools in a rural district in Pennsylvania. He told me that one of the proudest moments he has had was when some Negro students were awarded merit scholarships. That’s just the term he used, he wasn’t implying something negative about the students.
Now on to Trent Lott. Lott ran into a political controversy when he said, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, 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 the years, either.” He ran into a firestorm, was forced to apologize excessively, and eventually was forced to resign as Senate Republican Majority Leader.
Let’s try to put this into context. He said this about Thurmond at Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration. Well, my hope is that if I live to be 100, which is pretty unlikely at this point, that people would only say nice things about me, that they would choose at this to only put events in the best possible light. But does this make Lott a racist? Heck no. There’s not even an implication that Lott believes it, or that Thurmond continued to believe it.
I think that the term ‘racist’ is widely misused in the media. To me, a racist is someone who places his own race above others, regardless of any other issues of differentiation. So a racist would only hire whites, regardless of their qualification, instead of others who were clearly better qualified. Neither of these two senators have shown themselves to be racists.