Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's Said in Here Does Not Stay in Here: I Hear White People

"A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee…" —Former President Bill Clinton

“Obama is light-skinned” and has “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."— Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)

These quotes are from a new political book, Game Change. Many people are up in arms about the comments, calling Clinton and Reid racists and demanding that Reid step down as Senate Majority Leader. White women are clutching their pearls while old white Republican males rush to remind people that the Republicans freed the slaves, while black/African American and even a few Negroes feign shock and disgust at the comments.

First off, the only people who could possibly be shocked by comments like these are white people. Yeah, I said it. Let’s face it, any black/African American or even Negro person in America knows that white people (not all, but many) interact quite differently when they are or believe that they are no longer in mixed company. The race jokes abound, white males feel free to mimic the speech patterns and walks of black men they see on television, they might even sing along with an MC Hammer or Will Smith record. If enough alcohol is imbibed and there are no blacks/African Americans or Negroes on the wait staff, they might even try to kick something by 50 Cent, Jay-Z or Kanye. This particular scene is always worth far more than the price of admission.

It reminds me a little bit of an old Eddie Murphy clip from Saturday Night Live that my family affectionately calls “Mr. White.” Murphy undergoes an extreme makeover to appear white and adjusts his speech and mannerisms to go “undercover” in society as a white man. Much to his surprise, he is offered cocktails on a city bus once the minority passengers have exited, a free newspaper at a store and even free money at a bank—all due to the fact that he is white.

While this is a send-up and goes a bit far, the bit does have merit. White people tend to behave differently when in white-only situations, just as black people, Hispanics and everyone else do. It is much the same in the way that I might walk around the house with my hair in rollers amongst family, but I certainly wouldn’t do it in public (I know, plenty of other folks would, but that’s a whole different topic). Many black/African American /Negro people will use a different cadence when in homogenous company, just as many Latinos/Hispanics or other foreign language-speaking people might speak in their native tongues.
As for Mr. Reid’s and Mr. Clinton’s comments, did they lie? Sadly, they did not. Forty, thirty or even twenty years ago—the only thing Barack Obama could have done at the White House was bring coffee, shine a few shoes and smile while saying “Yassir” to every white face in the building. And though no one wants to admit it, if Barack Obama had the complexion of Yaphet Koto, Wesley Snipes or Djimon Hounsou and used “dem, dat, dose and dese” in his regular speech, they wouldn’t even let him shine shoes. America is still quite color conscious, regardless of what people say or would like others to believe. As for the use of the word "Negro," hell I am black/African American/Negro and I use the words interchangeably myself.

I’m unsure of the context in which these comments were made, but I will not purchase the book and add fuel to the fire in order to find out. One can likely pretty accurately assume that Reid’s comment was made in a context of “Hey look, if ever there was a black/African American/Negro candidate for the presidency, Obama is it. He is light-skinned—and hence less ‘threatening’ to most whites than a darker skinned black male. And, to hear him speak, most people wouldn’t perceive him as black/African American/Negro since most white people think all black people sound like the crackheads, gang-bangers, rappers and buffoons they see in television shows and movies…”

As for Clinton’s comment, as a standalone fragment it seems pretty bad. But what if it went something like this: “Wow! Barack Obama is the first black president! It’s hard to believe—I mean, a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee—unable to be recognized as a viable candidate despite being qualified…” Not quite so condemning now, huh?

The moral of the story is that we no longer live in a country or a time where the media reports the news—now they create, cook and spin it into a ready-made opinion to save you the trouble of forming one of your own. Some modern conveniences like the refrigerator, microwave, washing machine, dishwasher, cell phone, internet and the like are great. But falling into the trap of mainstream media and believing what they want you to believe without digging deeper and finding the truth is in no way convenient. It is actually quite dangerous. The leader of the free world has better things with which to worry himself, so please, check the sources, do some research and handle this type of your stuff for yourself.

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