Blacker Than Barack Obama

By Jonathan Capehart, Jan. 13, 2010, The Washington Post

Leave it to disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to give me an opportunity to add something new to the nonsense surrounding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Blagojevich is quoted in this month's Esquire magazine as saying, "I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived."

Blagojevich's black-by-osmosis is as ridiculous as it would be for me to claim I'm more Italian than Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi because I can speak Italian, love pasta and went to Italy twice a year for 11 years with my (now-ex) Italian partner.

But Reid's shocking unfamiliarity with African Americans is as offensive as Blagojevich's claim to honorary blackness.

As my colleague Ruth Marcus noted, Reid told a political truth. But, as Joe Scarborough said Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the Nevada senator sounded like he was "at a white Southern country club in the 1950s." And in doing so, Reid hit two third rails for the African American community.

Talking about shades of blackness is explosive. Lighter-skinned African Americans have long been seen as having an "unfair" advantage over other blacks in securing aspects of the American dream. Watch Spike Lee's 1988 film "School Daze" to see how sensitive blacks are to this issue.

Reid's use of the word "Negro," after all these years in Democratic politics, is inexcusable. African Americans are the base of the party, and Reid has blacks in senior positions on his staff. That the word flowed so easily from his lips makes me wonder whether he has listened to the black voices around him, whether he knows or understands who they are or what's important to them. That he claims he was saying this in an off-the-record conversation makes what he said even more alarming. What else does he say in private?

Reid spent the weekend apologizing to Obama and anyone else who wanted an apology. Apology accepted. Now, keep your mouth shut. Blagojevich apologized this week on a Chicago radio station. Apology accepted. Now, go away.

The writer is a member of The Washington Post's editorial page staff. (LA TIEMS)


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