One of the most interesting and reflective quotes I’ve read in some time about race is as follows:  “Prejudice is how you feel, discrimination is how you act.  I care how you act!”  To paraphrase, prejudices are inherent in all of us on some level.  We’ve all felt nervous or jaded about something or someone because of how different they may be from us. It doesn’t have to be race.  It could be hair combing, or food chewing, or even breathing.  It’s part of the human condition.  The trick is how most of us respond to these human differences– and how the corresponding actions affect others.

The whole Harry Reid saga is a perfect example of this idea.  While I don’t know Senator Reid personally, I don’t believe him to be a racist.  Why?  You have to examine the man’s actions. What is his track record on race, and race relations and reconciliation?  How often has he made these types of comments in the past?  Reid’s past shows no record of malicious racial insensitivity.  His work and actions have not veritably affected black Americans in a negative manner.  In fact, Reid’s civil rights record has been excellent during his political career.  So I give him a pass.

Does this mean Reid’s comments about Barack Obama’s skin color and lack of a “Negro dialect, “weren’t stupid?  Hell no!  They were moronic and borderline juvenile.  I don’t think they were racist.  I think they were borne from prejudices we all share.  They were remarks made from a lack of understanding and ignorance    I would advise Mr. Reid to learn more about some of the people he represents.  I’m not quite sure what a “negro dialect” is, but I can assure you that I, and millions of others like me,  don’t speak it.

This can be Reid’s teachable moment.  If  the senator pays attention, he can take this and use it as a gift.  Any gifts you receive should make you a better person, and one less prone to letting your prejudices affect your judgment.

Matthew Wright

Matthew Wright

Matthew Wright, originally from Connecticut, is a blogger and budding freelance writer. He is heavily interested in politics and public policy. His aim is to encourage real debate between real people. Real change begins on the grassroots level, not in the media. He attended the University of Hartford in West Hartford,Connecticut, and now makes his home in Atlanta, Georgia. He also makes a mean lasagna.

  1. Frank Povah

    Matthew: Without denying that it was a stupid thing to say openly – even during an election campaign, events rarely famous for wise remarks and great truths – is it not possible that he was stating what he thought to be a fact of life? That many white Americans would indeed feel more comfortable voting for someone of a ‘lighter color’ (I have to quote that because it makes me shudder)? The “Negro dialect” bit was stupid, I’ll grant you, he could have chosen his words better there.
    The fact is that what America proved to us foreigners on that day was that it could overcome what many in the world (wrongly) believe is a national mindset and showed that is indeed capable of great and uplifting things and though the forces of stupidity seem now intent on tarnishing that memory, in truth it will never fade.

  2. Matthew you make a statement “not sure what a negro dialect is” which brings to mind when “ebonics” was beening considered to be taught in schools. Harry Reid was wrong making that kind of statement but don’t play dumb about the dialect.

  3. Frank Povah

    But there are as many “Negro dialects” in the USA as there are “white” dialects, surely? Or am I wrong?

  4. Matthew Wright

    C Smith…

    I don’t play dumb. That’s insulting. If I say I’m not sure what a negro dialect is, then that is what I mean. Ebonics? That isn’t a dialect. That is slang. Learn the difference sir.

  5. Frank Povah

    Matthew: I thought Mr Reid’s reference to “Negro dialect” stupid because it implies that all African-Americans use the same speech patterns, accents and vernacular in the same way that I get infuriated when someone speaking about Australia’s indigenous peoples uses the term “in the Aboriginal language…”. I thought there are, or were, in existence several African-American dialects but the subject is obviously so sensitive that now I dare not ask

  6. Austin McMurria

    I aint necesarrily no Christian. Nor am i aint. I like those bracelets. The ones what says “whatud Jesus dew”. He was just great on issues of the heart and soul, but his card table tipping (in church , of all places) mightta landed him in jail. So i ax meseff, “What would God do?”
    Now you understand why i aint sayin’ wuther i’m a Christian or not. Yup, it’s not certain, but it sure seems plausible to anyone capable of tallying outcomes that what God might very well do is come down hear and kill all the Christians.
    Neither do i want to land in jail (following Jesus) nor can i imagine myself whacked enough nor arrogant enough to follow all what i imagine God would do. Besides, i aint him.
    But i still need guidance.
    In sitchiations such as these here, I defirr to one of the most poignant men in Americhka (i find the rooskie diminutive enlightening).
    So my solution is the answer to the following.
    “What would Chris Rock say?”

  7. “This can be Reid’s teachable moment.” How nice to point out a better way for him. I don’t like the term “teachable moment.” It implies that the mouth it comes from is superior and a tad condescending. The belief and feeling that you know a way that’s superior to another’s reveals itself as prejudiced. I don’t care for any politicians—never will, but I care about how writers choose their words.

  8. I agree that actions and not off-hand comments, especially those, define Harry Reid but I think this is a much larger issue than racial remarks.

    Why did we immediately veiw this through a racial lens? Perhaps that is part of the problems with race relations in America today–That which cannot be discussed does not get solved.

    I chose to view it from a political/pragmatic viewpoint. Let’s put this in perspective: Reid was asked about the “electability” of Obama and he answered honestly–Obama needed to appeal to moderates, intellectuals as well as regular democrats. Let’s face it; an articulate, handsome lght-skinned black man IS more electable–If we can’t acknowledge that and discuss the implications of this without fear of being called a racist, we will NEVER move past this.

  9. Matthew Wright

    You’re misreading my intent. I’m not implying my thinking is superior. I’ve heard and read enough bigoted speech and rhetoric to last a lifetime, and I’ve been the target of racist vitriol on many occasions as well. I have learned a different way to process it. I’ve learned not to make it an emotional issue. I believe that is how most of us treat this. The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it ignores the fundamental underlying reasons for bigotry. Why do we all harbor our prejudices? Is it really part of the human condition? These are questions we shouldn’t be ashamed of– or hide from– but we often do. This doesn’t mean my thinking is superior to yours or Harry Reid or anyone. It means that these instances have taught me a different way to look at these situations. I think it’s helped me cope with this disease a little better.

  10. Matthew Wright

    You are right Frank,

    There are different patterns of speech in black communities, but they’re not dialects. It’s slang. To say that all of any group is unified in how they feel or think or speak is misguided.

  11. Jingle Davis

    I grew up on the Georgia coast when the Gullah language, a creole mixture of African languages and English, was widely spoken by black people. A few coastal whites, including my mother, understood Gullah well and even spoke a little. Our family used, and still uses, Gullah terms — tote for carry, taki for horse (herds of feral takis ran wild in the marshes back then), stingaree for sting ray. Mother learned Gullah because she was an avid fisherman and regularly launched her small boat at Sullivan’s Landing on St. Simons Island. The landing was operated by a Gullah man named Cusie Sullivan who knew where the fish were biting on any given day. Cusie (whose first name means Tuesday in Gullah — in Africa, children were often named for the days or months of their birth) only spoke Gullah and he spoke it fast. I understood only a little he said — but then, i wasn’t the fisherman my mother was.

    Anyway, my point is that there were two distinct languages employed on the southeastern coast, starting in the late 1600s. Remnants of Gullah linger in the speech many black people, coastal and otherwise, and a few older white people like me who were lucky enough to grow up in Gullah country and learn at least a little of a unique and beautiful language.

    Gullah isn’t dialect and it isn’t slang. It’s a completely different language, the only English-based creole in the United States, and it’s now sadly heading for extinction.

  12. Frank Povah

    Jingle: And I believe there was once a dialect/language/patois known as “Geechee” with which, I believe, the great H Leadbetter was familiar, though I may have got this wrong. Can you enlighten me?
    Kent S: I agree with you. The problem is the same in Australia – everyone is so sensitive about these issues that discussion is often impossible. I remember a speaker at a ‘get to know us’ workshop, held as part of a “folk festival” at which I was performing. A young woman asked a question which brought gasps from the rest of the audience. An old Aboriginal man answered her, prefacing his reply with “Why are you all so upset? I’ve been insulted by people who don’t know me but think they should hate me – you can’t be insulted by a question from someone who wants to know something.”

  13. Frank excuse me for interupting here but the “geechee” and “gullah” dialect are pretty much the same. Geechee does sometime refer to a white person with a gullah accent/ dialect.
    Huddie Leadbetter, (Leadbelly) was from Lousiana. The Gullah speach ranges mainly from South Carolina lowcountry to the Georgia-Florida line.

  14. Frank Povah

    C Smith: Enlightenment. Thank you, I knew HL was from Louisiana and I remember reading many years ago that he was once a “Geechee” speaker. I also have somewhere (or had) a very old recording of him playing a couple of “Geechee tunes” (so described in booklet notes I seem to recall) on the accordion.
    Incidentally, as pure trivia, has anyone ever looked at the link between Zydeco music and the animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

  15. The teachable moment is that if a Republican had said the exact same thing you’d be running around with your hair on fire screaming “FIRE THE RACIST!!” but since it’s a Democrat you can equivocate the statement as being “juvenile,” pat Reid on the back for all the fine work he’s doing and saying “Move on, nothing to see here….” The teachable moment is this lack-of-controversy supports the notion that any political discussion of racial speech must support only one conclusion: that is Republicans/Conservatives are racist. When any one of the zillions of blithely racist Democrat/Liberals utters what is obviously a bigoted statement, you, Al Sharpton and Jesse rush to the public square in his defense, pointing out what a swell guy he is. It’s such ridiculous hypocrisy but another arrow in the angry left quiver that doesn’t quite hit the target like it used to do.

  16. Ron Taylor

    Weighing in, for no particular reason, on the language/dialect debate. Jingle rightly points out that Gullah Creole is English based. Louisiana Creole, which most of us hear a lot more about, is French based, the language, coincidentally, spoken by most Haitians in spite of the government’s attempt to make French the national language. And I just discovered, through the magic of Google, that the term Creole was first applied in Louisiana to WHITE French settlers, then was extended to enslaved Africans. Confusing matters, the term Creole is also applied to people of Spanish ancestry in the Caribbean and Latin America.

  17. Frank Povah

    And the dialect spoken by the people of the Torres Strait (The Torres Strait Islanders, Australia’s “other” indigenous people), is called Kriol, or Kreol, as is the dialect spoken by the wonderfully polygenetic ordinary people in Broome, Western Australia, where the musical “Bran Nue Dai” was written. The word Creole itself comes to us from French via Spanish via Portuguese via the Latin for “create”. There was objection by some to the word being used to describe these dialects because of the implied “racist” undertones, but the speakers concerned pretty much ignored that. Years ago, there was a call to ban the official use of the Creole language, New Guinea Pidgin (now Tok Pisin) in Papua New Guinea on the grounds that it was a created language and demeaning – despite the fact that it was the only language understood by all in a country (of some 6-7 million people) speaking more than 800 languages (not dialects). The police commissioner of the time pointed this out, adding that if created languages were to be banned, English would be the first to go. The inventiveness of Tok Pisin never fails to amaze me – it shifts and changes constantly with the times. It is said that the first helicopter seen in Port Moresby was immediately named “mikismassa bilong Jesus” mikissmassa being the kitchen Mixmaster (KitchenAid) and bilong in this case being belonging to or associated with KitchenAid (up there in the sky with Jesus). Bilong is used in many ways: Pren bilong me is my friend, Kai-kai bilong pik is pig food. Sorry, can’t help myself.

  18. Is there a difference between creole and cayjun or is like gullah and geechee?

  19. Frank Povah

    C Smith: As I understand it – and someone out there please correct me if I’m talking through my hat – Cajun the language is an archaic French with modifications, as happens to most languages over time. Cajun, for the people, is a corruption of Acadian, the name of the area around Nova Scotia from whence they came after being evicted by the Poms (English). So Cajun could be called a French dialect. Trivia: Some of the old traditional tunes remained in almost pure form from their origins in 18th century and earlier France, in the same way that the people of Appalachia preserved the ancient British ballads – note British, not English – the two are often confused, especially by the English. Me being xenophobic again.

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