Nevada Sen. Harry Reid has apologized for saying that the fact that Barack Obama is a light-skinned black who speaks without a "Negro dialect" made him electable as president. Game Change, a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign, includes Reid's opinions on what made Obama the first victorious African-American presidential contender.
Reid's associates told the New York Times that his comments on the president were supposed to be off the record, but the Nevada senator issued an apology anyway.
"I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words," Reid stated. "I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments."
While his use of the outdated term Negro is problematic, I believe that Sen. Reid has a point. The Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have been openly mocked in the mainstream media for delivering speeches with a distinct African-American cadence. That the biracial Obama can choose to speak in a way that's deemed race-neutral likely contributed to his crossover appeal.
As for Obama's lighter skin, we know that colorism thrives both in and outside of the United States. Lighter-skinned people are generally considered more desirable in a variety of racial groups. Whites prefer blondes over brunettes. Many Asian ethnic groups associate brown skin with peasants or farmers and fair skin with the upper classes. And in the black community, being able to pass the paper bag test (having skin lighter than the standard paper lunch bag) was historically an admirable achievement. Moreover, studies have indicated that lighter-skinned blacks in the U.S. excel in the workforce at a higher rate than their darker-skinned counterparts. So, yes, perhaps the fact that Obama could pass the paper bag test made him more attractive to Americans of all backgrounds than a dark-skinned black candidate would've been. As an African American who is not light-skinned, I detest this phenomenon but can't ignore its reality.
Thus, although Reid's choice of words was lacking, the gist of his words isn't altogether objectionable. Seems the senator was pointing out that racism exists in the U.S., and Barack Obama possessed certain qualities that helped him transcend the nation's racially stratified social structure in some ways. While the savvy way Obama ran his campaign, his message that he symbolized change and his stirring speeches all played a role in helping Obama win the election, being light-skinned and not peppering his language with black English vernacular surely didn't hurt his chances.