Senator Harry Reid is quoted as having said that “the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama–a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one …”
His words make him an astute observer on race. My husband and I (he is African American and I am Mexican and Chiricahua) did not think the country was ready for Barack Obama. Tell me the truth: Did you?
We had “those” conversations, and by we, I mean people of color. Many African Americans and Latinos privately wondered if our country was ready for Obama, and we saw his education, complexion, and “bilingual” capabilities–he could speak urban and Ivy League–as pluses in his run for election. (Actually, many successful people of color are bilingual in this or similar ways.) He was clean and handsome and cool, too. We saw how all of these things worked in his favor.
In our conversations we wondered: If he were dark skinned, dropped his g’s and used incorrect verb tenses, would he have a snowball’s chance in you-know-where to be the Democratic nominee, let alone win?
This, we said. This, we “knew.” This, we kept to ourselves.
So why is Harry Reid saying this some kind of crime? Because this country remains paralyzed between two fears–the fear of denial and the fear of admission.
What this most recent brouhaha tells us is that it is anathema to speak clearly about race in this country. We prefer waffling and innuendo to clear speech. This uproar also further mutes the precious opportunity to talk cross-racially about the soul of our nation while we have our first Black president in office.
Rest assured, I and my family and anti-racist friends of all races will continue our conversations about race in America behind our closed doors and in our Today’s Dream, Tomorrow’s Reality workshops. Maybe it’s time to have such a conversation where you are? Have enough of these conversations and maybe you will agree that Senator Reid made a rather obvious observation.
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice, Women of the ELCA.