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

Reid apologizes for 'Negro dialect' comment

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/09/art.reid1.gi.jpg caption="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. rudedog

    Of course, someone who talks like a rapper would have been sooooo successful in the debates, in commercials, in town halls, etc. I've heard many black academics and social leaders bemoan the pressure put on black children to not sound "white" or "uppity", the pressure coming from other African Americans. It's not the black dialect that holds people back, it's sounding uneducated.

    Jimmy Carter, Lindsey Graham, Barney Frank, Charles Rangel, Mary Landrieu, Geraldine Ferraro: all with distinct accents and dialects. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Shirley Chisolm, Maxine Waters: if you hear them without seeing them, you know they're black. All these brilliant representatives of their respective heritages and local cultures have the same thing in common: THEY SOUND EDUCATED.

    January 9, 2010 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  2. John in Indy

    amazing. just a few short years ago sen.Trent Lott voluntarily stepped down from leadership over a comment made at then Sen Strom Thurmonds birthday party. The remark referenced Sen Thurmonds 1948 presidential run where he was an avowed white supremecist. He lost and later renownced racism, much as sen Byrd has done. (and remember, Byrd was a Grand Dragon in the KKK)
    Because of a throw away comment, "maybe if you had won we wouldn't have had all these problems" at the birthday party, Trent Lott stepped aside. He said he wasn't referencing the racist platform of the day, was merely trying to make an old man feel good. The media, including CNN beat the horse dead and for the good of the country he fell on his sword. Where is the outrage from CNN on what has been a MUCH more racially charged comment. Hypocrisy on parade....

    January 9, 2010 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  3. Samantha

    Many black folks said the same thing Sen. Reid said. I even said it....I am a dark skinned black woman.

    January 9, 2010 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  4. Coherent1

    So what? I'm not fond the deep southern white dialect, but some of them are brilliant. I'm not fond of the broken English and slang used by some blacks, but some them are freakin' geniuses. I know some really articulate whites that are incompetent, just good at talking a good game. I know some dark-skinned blacks that will make you rethink this fascination with the American classification, if you could get past the fact that they're dark-skinned. The problem is America started the racial divide, built it into its foundation, and buried hatred in the heart. America can not get over the racial divide because it spent centuries creating one. They are too stupid to recognize the beauty of differences. Too narcissistic to recognize the multiple talents and skills of others, and too afraid to say they were dead wrong. The questions we all need to ask ourselves........1) where were we when the foundation of the earth was laid? and 2) where were we when the pigmentation of man was decided? In other words, GET OVER your silly little statistical comparison's and stereotypes! There's nothing YOU can do to change the differences of man, because there was nothing YOU did to create them!

    January 10, 2010 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
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