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. Jim

    I wouldn't hold this against Mr. Reid. It’s nothing compared to Ronald Reagan launching his presidential campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi and Nancy letting it slip about all the wonderful white people. I'm getting so tired of Republican hypocrisy about everything. They worship Ronald Reagan but suddenly they care about this remark...

    January 9, 2010 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  2. obamaproud

    Private remark that should has stayed private. Sounds like cheap right-wing smear tactics to me.

    January 9, 2010 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  3. Bull from NEPA

    It's ok Harry . You insulted Obamas white half too .

    January 9, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  4. Donna

    Not a Harry Reid fan, but got to say. . . . . . . . . .so what???? Its nothing but true what he said, and nothing wrong with it. Can we all just grow up? Please???

    January 9, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  5. Ryan (Charleston)

    This is absolutely hilarious!!! Where are all the liberals at on this one. Please everybody imagine if Reid was replaced with Limbaugh or Palin what the reaction to this would be. Its amazing that Liberals always claim to be the party of diversity then we hear garbage like this and the crap from Barbara Boxer. I wish Latinos and African Americans would wake up and realize that the CONSERVATIVE party is the big tent party in America.

    January 9, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    we are all human so mistakes will happen!!!

    January 9, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  7. Bob M

    What is striking to me about Senator Reid's comment is that earlier in the week I was wondering why he came out against Harold Ford running for senator in New York. At the time, I thought there was no way it could be for reasons related to race. I thought twice about that as I remembered his initial opposition to Roland Burris taking Barack Obama's senate seat with Blagojevich's appointment. I discounted that because it could have just been opposition to Blagojevich. Reading Senator Reid's comment today makes me rethink the events of the last week or so and really makes me wonder whether he is racist and would like to keep African-Americans from serving in the Senate.

    January 9, 2010 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. Revolution is near

    Shouldn't he resign? If he was a republican he would have been gone.
    Why the double standard they think we wear blinders and we can't see? They should all be sent home.

    January 9, 2010 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  9. Stanton Gene Kawaihinano Otero

    Well Sen. H. Reid..., it's not so much your "poor choice of words", for it is your statements that reveal to the American people, your honest, though outdated backwards thinking. You see Mr. Reid, you've managed to "out" yourself to the American people, as being a representative who fancies and prides himself, a Southern plantation White wealthy male, whom feels privileged enough to spout his true ideology. This of course identifies your poor choice of perspective and mindset, and this is what drove those "poor choice of words" out of your mouth. You are indeed an embarrassment to the State of Nevada, and to the office of which you currently hold. You should resign, and submit a formal apology directly to President Obama, and than, you need to attend a few cultural competency classes.

    January 9, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  10. DON

    Another example of the hypocrisy of the liberal/socialst left. They pretend to embrace minorities but as soon as they they think they're out of earshot, they let their true feelings come out. When are Blacks going to wake up the realize that the Democrat programs are designed to keep Blacks down and not encourage them to be all they can be? Disgraceful.

    January 9, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  11. Bob R., Lanham, MD

    Honorable Mr. Reid, I forgive you. We all know so will President Obama. I voted for him because I beleive that together we can make a difference to better all, and I do mean ALL, U.S Persons (that is different than all Americans, which includes all people of North and South America.)

    FYI, I am a age-70 so-called "white" man originally from The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. I am a natural born US Citizen although I believe my father's mother hose maden name was Kinicom, was a native American Indian.

    January 9, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  12. CleverTitania

    So stating a fact, and using the word Negro as opposed to African-American, automatically makes this offensive? Because if so, I think the American Negro College Fund needs to just change it's name. Or maybe it's not the language, but it is simply that he made any kind of comment about his race affecting his candidacy? Because no one in the world was thinking this in 2008. Of course not. The world is supposed to be color blind, especially politicians.

    Anyone remember Richard Dreyfuss, in An American President, arguing that a widower couldn't be taken down in a presidential race based on family values? Did anyone imagine that Dreyfuss' character somehow was completely insensitive to the president and his daughter, because he wasn't more 'delicate' when talking about the death of their wife/mother? He wasn't standing in front of them, after all, he was having a conversation about political capital, and in that case, the presidents' wife's death (and his subsequently dating) were going to be factors in his political life. Did we suddenly think he was thoughtless and cruel to all widowed parents?

    Do you know what half of being color blind is? It's being blind. Why is it ok to talk about Obama being the first black president, but not mention that his race (or just how much physical resemblance he might have to others of his race) might've been a factor in his presidential candidacy? Of course it was a factor. Reid's comments are 100% valid politically, even if you have issue with them personally.

    If Reid had commented on how Obama does his job, based on comments about his ethnicity, that would be inappropriate. But his candidacy? I'm sorry, that's just idiotic. I heard dozens of people say the same thing Reid said, a dozen different ways, when Obama first got into the race. I never once took any of their comments as racist or out of line. And you know what else, I never took a single comment about Hilary having "something of a chance at being the first female president because the public viewed her as less emotional than the average woman" as being sexist. Her gender was a factor. Her resemblance to the rest of her gender was a factor. I'm a woman, not a moron, and as such I know those things to be true.

    Reid's didn't say anything that warranted an apology to anyone, and if Obama is even 1/2 the man any of us think he is, he answered Reid's apology with, "No, I'm sorry they're all being idiots. You didn't say a thing I hadn't said before myself."

    January 9, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  13. someone mexican named ben

    I love that this came out. Hopefully it will show the black community the truth about the Democratic party. They are just as racist as the Republican party! Stop relying on one party or the other to "help" make things better for you. If you want to improve your life, do it yourself!

    January 9, 2010 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  14. Erika PW

    Wow....it seems as if no matter what moves we make in this country, we will always revert back to the days of the "good ol' boys", where white is considered right.

    There is nothing wrong with seeing individuals with their race; the problem begins when we make judgments and stereotype others simply based upon their racial background...

    January 9, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  15. Rich

    More politically correct nonsense. There was nothing wrong with what he said. I would love to hear Obama step up to confirm that!

    January 9, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  16. Charlie

    Wow, surprise. I thought the DEM always claim that they are not racist and only the GOP are. They are all stunted by how Obama won the election. The more I like Obama, the more I am disgusted with the congress

    January 9, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  17. Jenn

    Personally, I do not find the comment offensive. (Yes, I am African American). It happens to be true that BO is light-skinned, and that he does not speak with what could be referred to as Negro dialect unless he chooses to do so. I see nothing necessarily malicious or harmful in the statement. And with respect to the whole dialect issue, hey, we all have some sort of dialect. Even with white people, you can tell the difference between a Bronx native and a child of the deep south or a valley girl – it's dialect. No biggie. It's a shame that every time a white person happens to make a racial comment, it's automatically assumed to be negative, because that's not always the case.

    January 9, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  18. dan

    Why has the United States become a nation of wimps? It seems as if every time someone says something there's always someone who is "offended" and has to whine about it. Our freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment and nowhere does it say anything about having to apologize to someone because they were offended or their feelings were hurt. No longer are we the United States of America, instead we have become the United States of the Offended. The black community(yes, I said BLACK, and NOT Africian-American) needs to grow up and quit looking for any excuse to make everyone apologize because of their insecurities.

    January 9, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  19. Ron Cusumano

    Why should Harry Reid have to apologize for a true statement? I have seen and heard many african americans do the samething. And don't forget the push to teach ebonics in the public school system. It seems Americans have trouble with the truth when it hurts. It is what it is, grow up.

    January 9, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  20. Kenneth

    Amazing ... 2010 and the "Willie Lynch" doctrine still exists. How advanced can we seriously consider ourselves if ones color continues to dictate his/her worth. No politician who would utter such words in private or public should be permitted to hold an office. He may have "good" intentions but the road to hell is paved with them. The sad part is that he is not the only person of influence who has a bias based on color or social status. Good luck ... my fellow Americans!

    January 9, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  21. 31m-PA

    Unbelievable. I love how my Democratic friends tell me that Republicans are racist. haha. What hypocrites.

    January 9, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  22. Darth Cheney

    I herely apologize for my earlier comments, which though truthful in that they pointed out an uncomfortable truth about the white voting public, may have offended some simple minds incapable of processing the difference between commenting about others' attitudes about race and making a racist statement.

    January 9, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  23. Goto Ao

    People tend to get blamed for telling things like they are. Senator Harry Reid's apparent comments illustrate that fact. Mr. Obama, a person whom I support and have always supported for policy reasons, is in fact a lighter skinned person whose presidency would not likely have happened had his skin color been darker in color-obsessed America.

    For example, I reside in Hawaii, supposedly a racially-neutral environment. In reality Mr. Obama could not have been elected dog-catcher in Hawaii, had he remained here, precisely because of his skin color. It's just the way things are when a person is black or perceived to be black: i.e., different and/or "the other".

    We need to get over it these apologies for stating the obvious. Moreover, I do not believe that president Obama who is a highly intelligent person and hopefully a realist, given his present job, would be offended by Reid's remarks. It's just the way it is.

    January 9, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  24. Robert Porter

    I wish Harry Reid had said EXACTLY what he was apologizing for. Was it for using the word "Negro" or for using the phrase "Negro Dialect". The creation modern equivalents "Black" and "Black English" (or "Ebonics") did not make the use of the word "Negro" automatically derogatory. To me, Harry Reid was describing and admiring Obama's strengths, not condemning him for his race. Any word that identifies a group of people can be made to sound derogatory if that is the intention of the speaker. Without inflection, words like Caucasoid and Negroid are neutral and descriptive, and should not be stripped from the English language, though some PC people might wish it. Note that the United Negro College Fund has not changed its name.

    January 9, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  25. Ike

    This just shows no matter how far or high up blacks get into this country it is still that same country Frederick Douglass lived....we all know Douglass was nominated for Vice Pres. but turn it down. He still wasnt a full citizen yet either. It's the same here. Barack Obama has shattered barriers only to have white men like Reed still use this vile language against the Presidents race.

    January 9, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
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