[Reid] was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama --After apologizing to the President, he hastily spread his contrition around:
a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.
An aide to the senator told CNN that Reid offered apologies to several prominent African-Americans, including House Democrats Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Barbara Lee of California; the Rev. Al Sharpton; CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile; NAACP chairman Julian Bond; and the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Wade Henderson.My reaction was similar to Ward Connerly's. The popular right does those who hold freedom of expression in the highest regard no favors by being leftist-lite in their hysterical seizures over such inconsequential remarks. The next Trent Lott episode has now been cued, and the stupid omertas that support the perpetual fear people have of saying the 'wrong thing' are strengthened instead of sustaining welcome cracks in their foundations. A little candidness is refreshing. Everything Reid said is at least plausible, and in my judgment objectively true.
While many whites pay scant attention to the social consequences of differences in black skin tone, it's salient in the black community. But even in popular culture, melanin matters. Caramel-colored black women tend to rise to the top (Beyonce, Rihanna). When the rare jet does so, it's often by way of association (Michelle Obama) or through sheer merit (the Williams' sisters). And there are reasons nearer the ground for why people tend to associate lighter skin with greater competence. The following table shows the estimated mean IQ (converted from wordsum scores, under the assumption that the average black IQ is 85 with a standard deviation of 15) for three subgroups of black respondents as assessed by interviewers in 1982:
As listening to the radio makes clear, black vocal inflections are usually easily detectable. Obama's strong frame and emphatic delivery are obvious political assets. If his public presence was akin to Ron Paul's, he wouldn't be in the White House.
Finally, "negro" is an antiquated but not necessarily derogatory term to use in describing people of African descent. The US Census uses it alongside "black" and "African-American", as older blacks apparently prefer it to the newer labels.
My brother was incredulous about the last point. I explained to him that "negro" used to be favored over "black". I wasn't sure when the swapping of acceptability occured, but guessed it was sometime in the seventies. Fortunately, Agnostic's clever method of tapping the New York Times' archives to gauge the popular presence of ideas, people, and phrases over time offers the chance for greater precision.
The following graph shows the percentage of total articles containing the word "negroes", "blacks", and "African-Americans" by decade from 1851 to 1959, and then by individual year thereafter*. The blue line tracks "negroes", the black line "blacks", and the red line "African-Americans":
There was a spike during the 1860s as the US Civil War was fought. A century later, focus again shifted to blacks as a separate group of Americans, and stayed there up through most of the previous decade. It's difficult to tell whether or not the decline in reference to blacks as a group has settled around 1 of 100 articles, or if it will drop further still. The decrease in usage may be due to the increasing attention given to Hispanics, leading to the substitution of "blacks" or "African-American" with the broader "minorities".
"Negro" was clearly the word of choice until 1969, the year of the 'culmination' of the black civil rights movement and the year following MLK's assassination. By 1972, "negro"--viewed as having an ugly association with slavery--had essentially fallen out of the respectable media's lexicon, thoroughly replaced by "black". The 20 to 30 articles using the word from that time are mostly referencing historical quotes from books or people.
In the late eighties, Teddy Roosevelt's dreaded hyphenated Americanism was given semantic legitimacy. Up to that point, it had never been used to describe American-born blacks. I was in preschool at the time, and given how inchoate politically correct phraseology doesn't seem to benefit from the most meticulous of record-keeping, I am not sure of the impetus for the third-generation descriptor. Please enlighten in the comments if you are able to [Xenophon has kindly done just that]. It looks as though "African-American" will assume primacy over "black" in the next few years.
Reid was thirty when "negro" went over the precipice. He grew up using it just as I use "black" to describe people today. God forbid that, in my seventies, I momentarily forget an update to the most current version of newspeak and say something I would've innocently said as a young adult. I hate political correctness.
GSS variables used: COLOR(1-2)(3)(4-5), WORDSUM
* The plural form of each term is used to avoid the problem of "black" as an adjective describing the color of something (other than human skin!). It seemed too arbitrary and tedious to run a string of phrases like "black man", "black woman", "black student", etc. The important thing is that each descriptor is plural, so the comparisons are not apples-to-oranges. Also, I made sure "African-Americans" would catch "African Americans" as well. It does.