Thoughts on the public use of the word 'Negro'

Bravo for President Obama. Obama took the high-road giving our Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the benefit of the doubt, playing down the race card. Reid says our President, then Senator, made it this far as a light skinned black who could speak so well.

Why would our President be offended, he believes what the Senate Majority Leader says-and it is true: Obama is well spoken, he is light skinned. This month, I reckon, he is thick skinned too. Yet, however, kind and gracious it is to forgive someone in using a "poor choice of words", one should be mindful of the character revelation these poor choice of words unveil. For it is not our President, and his race, or his dialect, but also, the dignity and integrity of a people at the heart of Reid's opinion.
The most troubling aspect of our Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's statement that then-Sen. Barack Obama would likely find success as a candidate because he was "a light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," is his use of the word Negro. We know from previous statements that Reid must understand that the word Negro in identifying today's black Americans is a primitive and somewhat offensive term. Just six months ago Reid himself cited a talk show host as racist in linking Franklin Raines to President Obama saying, "...The only connection people could bring up about Raines and Barack Obama is they are both African-American, other than that there is nothing." Suddenly African-American is appropriate? Why not say "Negro" then Mr. Reid? Mr. Reid certainly knows why not.

It is not, Negro, for the same reason Michelle Kwan is not Oriental. It is not Negro, for the same reason that Prime Minister Hotoyama is not a Jap. It is not Negro, for the same reason, your Jewish neighbor is not a Jew. Reid knows as well as we all do that identifying with certain markers can underscore and imply way more than a person's ethnicity and character. The word Negro though accepted by blacks was used at an ugly and divisive time in this country. Negro is old-school and linked to a world that was still abusive and derogatory towards blacks. Negros were second-class citizens, largely undereducated, and vastly oppressed. Harry Reid certainly knows this and therefore knows better than to use the word Negro, at least publicly.

So what is this "Negro dialect" Mr. Reid speaks of? It is a dialect of an oppressed and uneducated people. A dialect of suffering and struggle. It is a dialect that President Obama would naturally be able to turn on and off like a faucet just as it appears that Harry Reid can as well in deciding when and when not to use racially titillating lingo. Thus, in confidant company, Obama and black Americans are Negro. Publicly, blacks are elevated to the gentrified African-American. Why, thankya good-suh massa Reid.

As far as the assertion that it would be important for a successful black Presidential candidate speak properly, Harry Reid makes a valid point. Many black Americans would be remiss to support an inarticulate representative of their race. Only, Reid suggests there are times when speaking with a Negro dialect (as only a true Negro would) might be useful.

In all the ways Mr. Reid could have complimented our President on becoming the first African-American President he choose to look beyond his character and go straight for divisive, archaic stereotypes. Mr. Reid did have a "poor choice of words", but, it was a lack of words that he did not use in defining our President. In praising then Senator Obama, Mr. Reid made not one mention of character, experience, wisdom, or intelligence, only Negro dialect and the hue of his skin. Someone recently reminded me of a quote my grandmother used to say and it is perfect for this. "A new broom knows how to clean up the mess; an old broom knows where to find the dirt." Yessuh, massa Reid, you an ol', duhty broom.


Lisa Fritsch is a writer and radio talk show host in Austin, Texas.


Bravo for President Obama. Obama took the high-road giving our Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the benefit of the doubt, playing down the race card. Reid says our President, then Senator, made it this far as a light skinned black who could speak so well.

Why would our President be offended, he believes what the Senate Majority Leader says-and it is true: Obama is well spoken, he is light skinned. This month, I reckon, he is thick skinned too. Yet, however, kind and gracious it is to forgive someone in using a "poor choice of words", one should be mindful of the character revelation these poor choice of words unveil. For it is not our President, and his race, or his dialect, but also, the dignity and integrity of a people at the heart of Reid's opinion.

The most troubling aspect of our Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's statement that then-Sen. Barack Obama would likely find success as a candidate because he was "a light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," is his use of the word Negro. We know from previous statements that Reid must understand that the word Negro in identifying today's black Americans is a primitive and somewhat offensive term. Just six months ago Reid himself cited a talk show host as racist in linking Franklin Raines to President Obama saying, "...The only connection people could bring up about Raines and Barack Obama is they are both African-American, other than that there is nothing." Suddenly African-American is appropriate? Why not say "Negro" then Mr. Reid? Mr. Reid certainly knows why not.

It is not, Negro, for the same reason Michelle Kwan is not Oriental. It is not Negro, for the same reason that Prime Minister Hotoyama is not a Jap. It is not Negro, for the same reason, your Jewish neighbor is not a Jew. Reid knows as well as we all do that identifying with certain markers can underscore and imply way more than a person's ethnicity and character. The word Negro though accepted by blacks was used at an ugly and divisive time in this country. Negro is old-school and linked to a world that was still abusive and derogatory towards blacks. Negros were second-class citizens, largely undereducated, and vastly oppressed. Harry Reid certainly knows this and therefore knows better than to use the word Negro, at least publicly.

So what is this "Negro dialect" Mr. Reid speaks of? It is a dialect of an oppressed and uneducated people. A dialect of suffering and struggle. It is a dialect that President Obama would naturally be able to turn on and off like a faucet just as it appears that Harry Reid can as well in deciding when and when not to use racially titillating lingo. Thus, in confidant company, Obama and black Americans are Negro. Publicly, blacks are elevated to the gentrified African-American. Why, thankya good-suh massa Reid.

As far as the assertion that it would be important for a successful black Presidential candidate speak properly, Harry Reid makes a valid point. Many black Americans would be remiss to support an inarticulate representative of their race. Only, Reid suggests there are times when speaking with a Negro dialect (as only a true Negro would) might be useful.

In all the ways Mr. Reid could have complimented our President on becoming the first African-American President he choose to look beyond his character and go straight for divisive, archaic stereotypes. Mr. Reid did have a "poor choice of words", but, it was a lack of words that he did not use in defining our President. In praising then Senator Obama, Mr. Reid made not one mention of character, experience, wisdom, or intelligence, only Negro dialect and the hue of his skin. Someone recently reminded me of a quote my grandmother used to say and it is perfect for this. "A new broom knows how to clean up the mess; an old broom knows where to find the dirt." Yessuh, massa Reid, you an ol', duhty broom.


Lisa Fritsch is a writer and radio talk show host in Austin, Texas.