I think rikyrah over at JJP is off-base in her criticism of Reid:
W-T-F is NEGRO DIALECT?
Do you honestly believe that Black people walk around talking Ebonics? That you aren’t talking about a SUBSET of people?
That the overwhelming majority of BLACK people with BLACK parents IN AMERICA were raised speaking the ‘ King’s English’, and that we were liable to get hurt if we didn’t.
Is she seriously arguing that there’s no such thing as a ‘black dialect’? Because most mainstream linguists would disagree with her. And, obviously, countless black people code-switch in their professional and personal lives all the time.
Admittedly, “negro dialect” is an incredibly poor choice of words. But again, it’s worth considering the context: a powerful, 70-year old white man was talking about his support for the African-American presidential candidate. What’s more, he’s making a completely banal point. Everyone knows that Barack Obama wouldn’t be president if he sounded like Al Sharpton. White Americans are — on the main — uncomfortable with African-American vernacular, and the fact that Obama could easily and readily code-switch was unquestionably a political asset. Moreover, I think it might be a little inaccurate to say that an “overwhelming” majority of black people use the “King’s English” in everyday conversation amongst themselves. Certainly, most black people are capable code switchers, but black vernacular is pretty widely used (see: Barack Obama).
Adam Serwer agrees, and goes a little further:
Reid’s use of the term “Negro dialect” is uncomfortable because the term is archaic and recalls a time when black people were legally denied equal treatment under law, but the sentiment that being black and light-skinned confers its own kind of privilege is so uncontroversial among black people that it’s banal. Code-switching — changing one’s speech based on racial or class context — is an equally mundane phenomenon.
At the same time, there are some important questions here: At what point does awareness of other people’s racism based on skin tone alter people’s actions to the point where they’re making decisions based on skin tone in anticipation of the decisions others will make? Would Reid have been justified in not supporting Obama if Obama were dark-skinned or not biracial because he thought whites might reject him? How would that have been different than simply declining to support Obama out of racism or colorism? How often does this ostensibly non-political calculation cause someone to be denied a job or opportunity just because they happen to be black or dark skinned?
The raw political calculation Reid made here was also one Americans of all races were making. I always knew that someday it would be embarrassing that the press spent 2007 and 2008 hosting panels of white people discussing the political implications of Obama’s racial authenticity — or lack thereof — but I never imagined that we’d all decide to pretend it never happened.
Ta-Nehisi has more.
If there’s any comment from Game Change that invites outrage, it’s from Bill Clinton.
In lobbying the late Sen. Edward Kennedy to endorse his wife, former President Clinton angered the liberal icon by belittling Obama. Telling a friend about the conversation, Kennedy recalled Clinton had said “a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,” the authors paraphrase. A spokesman for the former president declined to comment on the claim.
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