By Jasmyne Cannick
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid’s characterization of then-candidate Barack Obama’s chances to win the presidency because he is a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect” — well, was right.
All Reid left out was the fact that Obama was “male,” because let’s face it, that helped too–that and the fact that he spoke English better than any other Black man who has ever run for President and didn’t sport a perm or an Afro.
What was wrong was that that Reid shouldn’t have ever said what he said publicly considering he is white and these types of statements can’t help but come off a bit racist.
But I guess that’s what’s to be expected when Tyler Perry films get national distribution. All of black’s most inner thoughts and kitchen table conversations are now out in the open for everyone to use.
But I am not as much concerned with Reid’s statement as I am blacks continued willingness to support a Party that clearly still harbors unresolved race issues and a lack of race etiquette as it relates to blacks.
Etiquette as in, some things are better left unsaid by white Democratic Party leaders lest they conjure up memories that Democrats would rather be left forgotten.
For example, the now infamous “inadequate Black man” statement made at the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee meeting by an angry Democratic Clinton supporter.
But as it relates to the truth of Reid’s comments, let’s take a short trip back down memory lane.
Shirley Chisholm — black and female, in 1972 she ran for President during her 2nd term in the House of Representatives…unsuccessfully. Then there was Lenora Branch Fulani, also black and female, she ran for the presidency in 1988 and 1992…unsuccessfully. Jesse Jackson, well he was Black and male, but not so light-skinned and with a Negro dialect when he ran for the US Presidency in 1984 and 1988. Carol Mosely-Braun, another black female announced her run for the presidency at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 2003. Needless to say, her bid was unsuccessful.
Along comes Al Sharpton who is black, male, but again not so light-skinned, and with a heavy Negro dialect. Sharpton ran for president as a Democrat in 2004 unsuccessfully. Former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown, another black female, briefly ran for the Green Party presidential nomination in 2008. That was the last we’ve heard from her. Cynthia McKinney, black and female, was nominated by the Green Party in 2008 for President of the United States. And then there was Barack Obama—black, male, light-skinned, with no Negro dialect when he ran for the US Presidency on the Democratic ticket in 200… and won.
Need I say more?
Politically correct or not the truth hurts and issues aside, what made President Barack Obama’s candidacy so appealing to both Blacks and whites was that he was bi-racial. Whites weren’t so fearful because of his European heritage and blacks — well we felt like he was one of us. Plus it helped he had a black wife.
Former Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro pretty much echoed that sentiment when she told the Daily Breeze Newspaper in March of 2008 that “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”
While I may not like what Reid or Ferraro said—there is some truth to their statements.
As black people, we know that blacks with lighter skin have always been treated better. In the days of slavery, the dark-skinned Blacks worked in the fields while light-skinned Blacks worked in the house, hence the terms “field Negroes” and “house Negroes.” It got so bad, that not only did the slave owners, who were often responsible for the lighter shade of brown his slaves had, give lighter-skinned Blacks more respect, but so did the dark-skinned Blacks.
Not that much has changed today—just look at Hollywood. ‘Precious’ actor Gabourey Sidibe—well she’s an anomaly—but her character’s fascination with being white, long straight hair, and dating a light-skinned brother is something that black women still struggle with. Just ask your average inner city Korean beauty supply owner what color and type of hair do they sell the most—honey blonde silky straight.
But this isn’t about Black people’s issues (and there are many) with our skin color. This is about the ongoing and ever prevalent anti-black attitudes and covert racism among the Democratic Party’s leaders and rank and file members. The Party that Blacks claim as their own.
It’s been 39 years since Democratic Representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert Nix, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, and DC Delegate Walter Fauntroy founded the Congressional Black Caucus. And even though Democrats elected a black President, and we have 42 members currently serving in the CBC, the Democratic Party itself has been and continues to be mostly white led. From the DNC officers and Democratic Party organizational leadership, black faces are far and few between on the leadership pages, which could explain the lingering pre-Reconstruction anti-Black attitudes among some white Democrats regarding Obama’s ascendancy. California’s Democratic Party is a perfect example of this as there is only one African American who is a Party officer while whites and gays—well they run ‘tings.
For far too long, black voters have participated in political deference. The Democratic Party needs to be challenged on why minorities, females, and those under 30 are encouraged to vote, but not to lead, and why when they attempt to lead their voices are quickly drowned out. I need to know why it’s more of an asset in California to be a gay male or female in the Democratic Party than to be black—straight or gay.
Black Democrats need to flex their muscle when the Senator Reid’s of the world overstep their boundaries instead of looking the other way in the name of healthcare and not being distracted. Healthcare went under the bus when Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson’s vote was bought behind closed doors. This isn’t about a distraction from healthcare, it’s about whether or not Black Democrats have the chutzpa to take on their white counterparts on issues of race and represent for the people who elected them into office.
While I may agree with Sen. Reid’s assessment, as a Party leader, he had no business making that statement. We all know had Sen. Reid been a Republican, it would have been off with his head. Allowing Reid to keep his position as a Democratic Party leader only reinforces the message that white Democrats still harbor pre-Reconstruction anti-Black attitudes and as Black Democrats we’re supposed to just go along to get along. I can’t go for that.
Unexpected and unapologetically Black, Jasmyne Cannick, at 32, is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.