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Sen. Harry Reid racist comments; George Will is wrong

The firestorm over the discovery of Nevada Senator Harry Reid racist comments regarding now-President Barack Obama prove that memories are short. Much has changed since Barack Obama became the 44th President of The United States, specifically attitudes about race and the overall willingness to talk about race and racism.

Harry Reid, the Democratic Senator, is accused of essentially saying that Obama would be a good presidential candidate even though he's African American. According to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, In a new book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin called Game Change, Reid reportedly said this:

“Harry 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 -- a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he said privately.”

At the time, Harry Reid's comments were both race-concious and racist. ABC News George Will is really wrong when he said "there's not a scintilla of racism in what Harry Reid said. At long last, Harry Reid has said something that no one can disagree with, and he gets in trouble for it."

But what he said, and what George Will rubber-stamped on ABC News' This Week, Sunday, is both race-concious and racist. One is OK, but the other, racism, is not. To be race-concious is to be keenly aware of racial differences in people, but not use that to the detriment of the person who's being judged. To be racist is to put down a person - to reject them or avoid associating with them - because that person's skin color is different.

What Harry Reid said both acknowledged and supported the common view that to be black in America is to be judged by whites, and now some blacks, as less than. That a "common" black person speaks in a certain way and has dark-skin. By contrast, Harry Reid was saying, and George Will is acknowledging, that Barack Obama can "pass" for white and that makes him OK.

That view is racist but it was also very common to hear or read in 2008. Barack Obama's successful campaign challenged people who were used to seeing a "whites only" political arena, and even those considered not racist at all, specifically former President Bill Clinton, were recorded making questionable comments regarding Barack Obama.

Clinton's approach in comparing Obama's run to that of Jesse Jackson's in 1984 was attacked as racist, and doomed Hillary Clinton's presidential run.

And some African Americans, particularly many of those over 40, didn't give Barack Obama a chance to win before the 2008 Presidential Primary started. When Obama performed well during that time, some blacks were quick to say that Obama's "not black." That too is racist and is expressed from a "self-hating black" perspective.

All that is in the past; now we have Obama as president and a new America, where commercials pairing interracial couples are the norm. That wasn't true even as recently as 2008. America has gone through a rapid and far reaching wave of cultural change that continues today, that does not mean the past should be rewritten.

What Harry Reid said was in 2008 was racist; but that does not mean he's racist. Reid has apologized to Obama Moreover Reid, like other Americans, has learned a lot about himself and the country in just over one year.

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