It has become a media tradition to talk about race relations and the content of people’s character on and around the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birth. Today is the day.
Somebody needs to tell Harry Reid to check his watch and calendar.
Timing is everything - whether the Senate’s majority leader is home in Nevada in the Pacific time zone or following Eastern Standard Time when he’s in Washington.
The Senate’s top Democrat has fallen into a time warp and can’t seem to get up.
Surely sometime between the era when Mr. Reid earned his good law school “edumacation” at George Washington University (1964) and first won a U.S. Senate seat (1986), he heard that President Reagan had signed into law the first federal holiday honoring a black man. He also had to have known by then that Americans took a dim view of users of any N-word.
Just four years after Mr. Reid left GWU, King was assassinated, and James Brown proclaimed, “Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.” The meaning was no mere substitute for terms like “Negro” and “colored.” The song was - and is - an American anthem, sung and danced to by blacks and whites alike.
Today, as a top American public official, Mr. Reid (and all who forgive and forget) needs to be enlightened about the late singer’s intentions, which he articulated (sans dialect) in his 1986 autobiography.
Brown wrote: “The song is obsolete now. … But it was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people. … People called “Black and Proud” militant and angry - maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children’s song. That’s why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride. … The song cost me a lot of my crossover audience. The racial makeup at my concerts was mostly black after that. I don’t regret it, though, even if it was misunderstood.”
Oh, and by the way, most of the children who sang on “Say It Loud,” which was recorded in 1968 at Vox Studios in Los Angeles, were white and Asian-American.
There is much that can be read into Mr. Reid’s notorious comments, which is why some folks want to kick him out of the Capitol leadership by the seat of his pants. But his detractors and his supporters are wrong to compare Harry Reid to Trent Lott, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Don Imus, Bill Cosby, Rush Limbaugh or any other big name who has been accused of “misspeaking” on a racial issue.
Mr. Reid is not being taken to the woodshed by his ideological partners, his spouse is not running for president, and he’s not in the entertainment industry.
The calls for Mr. Reid to step down are appropriate because, as Senate majority leader, Mr. Reid stands alone.
The senator may or may not have a stack of old 45 records lying around collecting dust at his home. And he may have never snapped his fingers to a James Brown tune back in the day. Mainstream stations in Nevada were more likely to play “Hey Jude,” while Nevadans themselves probably were more inclined to imagine themselves “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding (dialect transgressions aside).
The issue with Mr. Reid’s choice of words is not how many black friends he has or whether he has a positive civil rights record.
The issue is neither politically correct nor politically incorrect. (Sorry, Bill Maher.)
The issue is that the Senate majority leader said it. Period.
c Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.