I was e-mailed a news article on the inclusion of the category “Negro” on the 2010 Census form, a “descriptor” not considered politically correct or acceptable by many African-Americans. The Census Bureau defends its inclusion of “Negro” in the 2010 Census form by pointing out that many (older) Americans of African descent wrote in the descriptor “Negro” rather than check off “black” or “African-American” (the descriptor “Negro” was not included in the 2000 Census). I suppose, based on this, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should not be attacked for using the term “Negro” in his statement about (President) Barack Obama’s being a viable presidential candidate. And based on the reality of racism in America, perhaps Senator Reid should also not be attacked for saying that he thought (President) Barack Obama had a chance to win because he was (is) light-skinned with “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” (Would it have been more politically correct to say “no ebonics”?)
Actually, Senator Reid stepped on the toes of racist America with his statement. The reality and history (and continuum) of American racism has rated African-Americans according to the darkness (paleness) of their skin, the texture of their hair (curly to straight) and facial features that most closely resemble (or are dissimilar to) those of Caucasians. African-Americans (“Negroes”) that look(ed) more like “massa” were (are) rated as more acceptable. National GOP Chairman Michael Steele (a not-dark-skinned African-American without a Negro dialect) is quoted as saying that “this is 2010, not 1953,” in reference to deeming Senator Reid to be out of touch. But judging from comments made by African-Americans about Chairman Steele, the same can be said of him. Ouch.
A person with whom I was conversing for the first time told me that I must have come from a well-to-do family to have my complexion (I’m a dark-skinned African-American) and my speech patterns (that is, no Negro dialect). Ouch. I chewed the person out for saying something so ignorant and for being an African-American (Negro?) who embraced the stereotype. I reminded this person that the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had dark skin, was very intelligent and “spoke the King’s English,” as the saying goes. When I was a child, a Caucasian man told my mom that he preferred “lighter skin,” as I sat within earshot with my sister, who had lighter skin. Ouch.
The Reverend Lowery was accused of promoting divisiveness in America when he recited the following in his prayer at the 2009 Inauguration of President Obama: “Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, and when white will embrace what is right.”
Was Reverend Lowery stomping on the toes of American racism? You bet he was. But he used words much gentler and more hopeful than the version with which I and many other African-Americans (“Negroes”) are familiar: “If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re brown, you can stick around. If you’re black, jump back.” Ouch. American racism. It hurts everybody.