Public Comment

What Is Really Behind the Attack on Harry Reid

By Carol Gesbeck DeWitt
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:33:00 AM

We have a national predisposition to hold assumptions and generalizations regarding people based on pigmentation and accents. Educated people who are white or have light enough skin and features that allow them to pass for white and who speak Standard English—as spoken by national network television newscasters—are more easily employed and elected to public office. There has always been a hierarchy based on color in America as well as within the black community itself. In white majority communities minorities, foreign-born and people of color are less likely to win elections. Unfortunately, historically in America the darker the skin and the stronger the accent the more limited the opportunities and the harder it is to get a job or elected to public office. 

This is a statement of fact based upon job histories and election results for as long as this country has existed. It is not a product of racial insensitivity, endorsement of prejudice or racism to observe and comment on these pigment- and accent-based inequities. Nor is it a reason to accuse someone of intolerance because they comment on a particular candidate’s chances of winning an election based on their appearance and speech patterns. Choice of moniker is less relevant than intent and lifelong track record supporting equality and tolerance. Reid has been re-castigated because two years ago he commented on Obama’s electability and used the forbidden word “Negro.”  

Blowing up sensitive issues and mistakes out of rational proportions and making trouble where none actually exists does a great disservice to the many challenges in uniting Americans. It is extremely divisive for the obviously politically motivated to seek out every misspoken word uttered and taken out of context and exploiting them for political gain. They endeavor to smear reputations, hoping to unfairly sabotage their opponents. It is especially repugnant for politicians and those in the media to target prominent older people who were raised during times when blatant discrimination was common and whose speech can at times revert to what is now clearly unacceptable, “politically incorrect” speech. It is one thing to remind people that times have changed and tolerance and conscious speaking are now essential. It is quite another thing to continue to distort truth and unfavorably portray those who speak thoughtlessly with poorly chosen words, intentionally attempting to discredit the lifelong reputation of decent, dedicated, fair-minded and long-careered public servants. Also worth noting is that accusations of racism draw attention from the most important topic of the day: healthcare reform and Senator Reid’s leadership in moving the debate forward. Rightwing: Agenda? Ulterior motives? 

This pseudo intolerance of “misspeak” is merely dirty politics as usual. Sound bite/ratings obsessed news outlets gladly enable those with an agenda to pervert truth and provide the opportunity to represent ill-chosen words as intentional or an indication of bigotry. The fact that the rightwing is able to exploit Reid’s less than politically correct language and garner media attention over this non-offence indicates that the dialogue on race in America is deeply uncomfortable, desperately needed and far from over. 

It is human nature to be clannish and inclined to stick with those most like oneself. Most people don’t like change. The familiar usually seems more comfortable. Historically in America middle-aged white men have controlled power and wealth. And they are not eager to share. These dynamics are clashing and crashing. Crumbling long standing racial inequities, as well as the many impacts of the global economy and ongoing national economic struggles result in shifts in power. All contribute to complex resolution processes, controversy, and confrontation and often dirty tactics. Huge sums of money are involved and those in control will do anything to maintain status quo. 

Sadly, those promoting high profit corporate agendas have succeeded, in one generation, in vastly dumbing-down public education in America. This has had the intended consequen—a population less capable of critical thinking and intelligent voting. Kept at each other’s throats they are indeed more easily divided, conquered and enslaved by debt. The sought after, manipulated, younger, dumber demographic of debt-riddled consumers, content with and grateful to have unstimulating and unfulfilling dead-end jobs, often in stifling windowless office cubicles, are too inadequately educated to grasp their sheep like status in the economic scheme of corporate America. They seem hypnotized as long as ever newer, bigger, shinier, more costly technical gadgets, cars, homes, sports equipment, forms of entertainment, clothes and jewelry are theirs at the mere click of a mouse—and continued indentured servitude to their mind-numbing and soul-sucking jobs. As usual money and power are at the root of controversy and fiercely held by the well-focused few to control the unorganized many. 


Carol Gesbeck DeWitt is an Oakland resident.