January 9th, 2010
04:45 PM ET
4 years ago

Reid apologizes for 'Negro dialect' comment

Reid apologized Saturday for remarks he made about then-candidate Barack Obama.
Reid apologized Saturday for remarks he made about then-candidate Barack Obama.

Washington (CNN) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apologized Saturday following reports he had privately described then-candidate Barack Obama during the presidential campaign as a black candidate who could be successful thanks in part to his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reported the remarks in their new book “Game Change,” which was purchased by CNN Saturday at a Washington-area bookstore. The book is slated for official release next Tuesday.

“He (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. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination," they write.

“I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words,” Reid said in a statement to CNN.

(Update 4:00 pm: In a statement released by the White House, the president accepted Reid's apology: "Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today. I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.")

In his Saturday statement, Reid said he apologized “for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.

“I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda.”

Reid also pointed to his efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry, among other legislation favored by African-American voters: “I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African American community.”

The Nevada Democrat – who waited to formally endorsed Obama until after the conclusion of the tough presidential primary battle in 2008 - is facing an uphill re-election fight this year in his home state.

–CNN Political Producer Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report

Update: Republicans called on Democratic lawmakers and candidates Saturday to condemn Reid's original remarks. “For those who hope to one day live in a color-blind nation it appears Harry Reid is more than a few steps behind them," National Republican Senatorial Committee communication director Brian Walsh said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long history of embarrassing and controversial remarks by the senior Senator from Nevada. He always shares exactly what’s on his mind with little regard to perception or consequences, and it’s one of the reasons he is the most vulnerable incumbent Senator in either party facing re-election.

“Nevada deserves better from its leaders and this November, voters in the Silver State will have an opportunity to elect a new Senator who will put their views and values first and foremost. In the meantime, we hope Reid’s fellow Democrats in the Senate and on the campaign trail will stand up and rightly condemn these racially insensitive remarks by their elected leader.”


Filed under: Harry Reid • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (304 Responses)
  1. Gus

    The National Republican Senatorial Committee: standing up for black people whenever it enables them to attack the opposition.

    January 9, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  2. bcassell

    First of All I do not understand WHy Senator Reid is Apologizing...Yes, a poor choice of words but it was a PRIVATE conversation...What's going on with the world and this INVASIVE Behavior. Who taped Senator Reid's Private conversation....They should be jailed.
    My other problem is the Media reporting a private conversation for what purpose...to what end....Shame on Freedom of Speech with no value.
    The People of Nevada obviously cannot appreciate what a statesman they have in Senator Reid.

    January 9, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  3. larry

    I'm no republican and this is insulting but to hear republicans try to be holier than tho about race is more insulting..I see the racist tea bagger signs and I am well aware of the republicans hatred for anyone that is not white. Reid also showed is true colors...which is with a yellow stripe down his back.

    January 9, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  4. Audrey in Georgia

    Mr. Reid, apology accepted. Now get back to work and get health care
    reform passed!

    January 9, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  5. Welyun

    Thankfully this guy is a Democrat because there would have been some outrage and "told you so's" if he was a right winger, but the simple fact is, this kind of stuff is not surprising. Racist people aren't fooling anybody. Whites especially, we can see it. Obama's not fooling anybody, he is who he is and I love him for that. I love the UPDATE that: "Republicans called on Democratic lawmakers and candidates...". We've come too far to believe that we can one day live in a color-blind nation, it's too late for that. What we can do is focus on our laws and rights, the "color" will take care of itself. People will use these kind of stories to throw jabs at one another. The guys a jerk and I'm not sure of how long he's held his position, but the people voted him in and if they don't like him then they know what to do next.

    January 9, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  6. Jason

    Sweet, another Democrat about to lose his job...exit stage left...don't let the door hit you on the way our.

    January 9, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  7. AnProf

    In my opinion, Democrats use people of color to gain power, and keep them feeling victimized so as to retain their votes. You can clearly see this condescension in Reid's private remarks. Instead, Republicans want to empower all people to stand on their own feet.

    January 9, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  8. Cary from NJ

    Is "light-skinned" a racial epithet now? I guess I'll have to add that one to the list of things not to say anymore. Screw it, I'm not going to say anything to anyone ever again unless they are the same ethnicity as me otherwise I might be labeled a racist. Right? Wait.... dang I'm confused.

    January 9, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  9. Journey1

    I do not want to hear any "official" rebuke by any Republicans. Not after Barack the magic negro by Rush, Beck's reference that bi racial Obama hates white people, Steele's comments on any race issue, etc.Repugs live in glass houses on anything regarding race issues.

    January 9, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  10. Lin

    Why does everything have to be blown out of proportion? This has nothing to do with Senator Reid being a few steps behind those of us hoping to some day live in a color blind nation. This is about book sales and politics. If people were honest enough to admit it we would probably find out that over half of America feels the same way, Republicans included. It is very unfortunate that others are trying to use it for political gain. I am an African American woman who also believes that President Obama's dialect and skin tone contributed to his being accepted. It is very unfortunate and sad that some people still can't see past skin tone, but I am proud that he is such an articulate man. Besides, didn't skin tone play a part in the past presidential elections? So, maybe we need to ask for apologies for those too. When are we going to stop playing games?

    January 9, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  11. Andrew

    I'm not as concerned by Mr Reids amazment at President Obama's oratircal skills as i am by his asumption that the improper use of english grammer is a "Negro dialect".

    That slip by Mr Reid tells exactley what he thinks about "Negros">

    Case in point. When i describe the typical white politician i wouldn't say "That Mr Reid is so well spoken and he doesn't speak in white dialact". I would be making the assumption that "White dialact" is the improper use of the english language.

    Hopefully mr Reid is the only black sheep of the congress, or should i say white sheep?

    January 9, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  12. Mona

    Growing up in my generation, "negro" was the word of choice to
    describe African American's. I was never under the impression that it
    was meant to be deragatory. Having said that, some African American's
    do have a particular way to speak & pronunciate much like Southerner's
    do & Hispanics etc.etc etc. . I don't think he had to apologize for his remark but did so anyway. I guess things change every so often &
    because ours, mine, your generation does thing differently doesn't mean
    it's wrong or hurtful.

    January 9, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  13. Michael G.

    If the Oakland school district wanted to teach ebonics in the classroom, how politically incorrect could the term negro dialect be?

    January 9, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  14. Ready for 2012

    Why should he apologize for telling the truth?

    January 9, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  15. Don B. Charlotte

    This is another incident wherein the sad truth is he is correct in what he meant to say, though he could have used different choices in expressing that truth.
    I'm a New Yorker. But I've lived in the south for over 35 years. There are times I still cannot understand what an African American is saying.
    I've never understood why their expression of the english language is so often hard to interpret, and their own verbage is decidely different . Unless it is deliberate. I remember well the flagrant dismissal of their need to address this (which in turn is an acceptance of Senator Reids' comment) was done so with the creation of "Ebonics". Another sad truth wherein the fact of the matter clearly evidenced it as an excuse had been presented for the way African Americans talked, and if they could establish an accepted dialect of Ebonics they wouldn't have to learn to change it. It was to this that Senator Reid's message was honest and truthful in his intent.
    They, in a general statement, go to the same schools, have the same enlgish curriculum as everyone else and are professionally taught as to the proper diction with which they should express themselves when speaking english, or better categorized as "American".
    It is they themselves that indulge in either changing that, or a blatant choice to deliberately not accept it. For lack of a better identifier, their "jive" talk is self-created, self-taught and self-centered.
    I can see of absolutely no reason imaginable why all African Americans can speak with the clear and consice diction by which our President, of whom I've always been a staunch supporter of, expresses himself. It isn't their culture, or cultural heritage. Nor should this or anything be regarded as a "black thing" we wouldn't understand. That's a tragic, misleading outright lie.
    Like their hand slapping handshakes, their offense to this comment is another example of their courageously strived for ambition, and right, to be treated equal, but want to also be accepted as different.
    It doesn't work that way. Cut the excuses, stop all the false sense
    of being "offended", and just be an American.
    Don Bryan, Charlotte, NC, kildrashon@msn.com

    January 9, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  16. David

    Wow! If this guy were a republican they would run him out of Washington in a heartbeat. This is just too comical.

    January 9, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  17. paul

    ...Heaven help if a Republican said this......Harry Reid would be calling for is head on a platter.....he is a hypocrite....

    January 9, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  18. Erick

    So, which Republicans will back Reid up for using prejudiced language to describe the President, and which ones will vilify him? I'm guessing all of them will do both, the latter publicly and the former privately.

    January 9, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  19. Janice

    Wow! And people say things have changed!!!!!!

    January 9, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  20. John

    The only thing appalling to me is that he apologized for this. I would like to hear someone argue against his point convincingly. It would be tough.

    January 9, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  21. Joe

    From a middle aged white guy perspective I understand what he said about the Candidate Obama. Perhaps he was thinking: Obama does not speak like a rap gangsta', pronounces words properly, does not look, speak or act like many African American sports figures we idolize, and doesn't look too black. In general, he is a good looking man. Sen. Reid probably felt that Candidate Obama would have to be appealing to many different cultures and people. Even those that are disposed to racial hatred. Either way he(Reid) should be embarrased and apologize. I don't think Reid is a racist, he is just another Joe Biden. Does not think before he opens his mouth, chooses words poorly, and makes himself look like moron.
    Didn't Reid also initially vote no for the Senate Health Care Reform Bill, then change his mind and vote yes?

    January 9, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  22. Bill

    Hmmm...no comments yet that I can see but let me guess what I'm going to hear from the Democrat posters on this story...

    1) "People in the Bush administration said WAY worse!"

    or

    2) "It was a remark a while ago and doesn't mean anything really; we've got bigger fish to fry, blah blah blah"

    #1 is incorrect, #2 is correct, but regardless, if this was a Republican that had said those things, you Dems would be screaming for his resignation. Where are your protests now, you hypocrites????

    January 9, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  23. bryan

    lets face it....If this guy was not the Democrat leader he would be politically dead in the water. He refused to endorse Obama, and was behind Clinton the whole way. Now we see he is obviously a racist...Well we know the media will bury this for him!!!! ;-(

    January 9, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  24. Republicans outraged?

    Republicans are upset about these remarks? I cringe at what they say behind closed doors. President Obama is well aware of what people say about him, as many African Americans go through this all of the time. He has apologized, let us move on to the issues. I accept his apology.

    January 9, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  25. tlaw

    Bull- – - -!
    It's tiring and sickening, all of these politicians and elected officials, who are supposed to set a good example and be good role models and reflect the best of American character and morality, when they do just the opposite. The more important thing, however, I think is this: the more they apologize, and they more they try to wiggle out of it with the tiresome excuse of '...it was a poor choice of words', the more bull- – - – they're piling on. The point is that, when they say something when they think no one's around or listening or paying attention, it's then that they're saying what they really believe and really think; their true colors are showing, so to speak. It's now our job to throw these bums out and let them know that we've had more than enough of their lies and deception.

    January 9, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
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