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. donna sophia

    Well boo hoo. Why don't we just concentrate on the big stuff and stop all this whining around. People with thin skin (no pun intended) should just stay home and turn off the radio and TV.
    get the F over it.

    January 9, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  2. John, Brooklyn, NY

    It is unfortunate that this remark will, undoubtedly, be used by Republicans against him in his bid for re-election. Its ironic, since Republicans may be better skilled at presenting a politically acceptable front yet, behind the scenes, they systematically engage in race baiting by exploiting fears of Latinos, oppose efforts to correct past (and current) inequities through Affirmative Action (they call them quotas), and fight against extending the Voting Rights Act to ensure blacks the right to vote in the South (they claim the New South is "different"..yet do we really beleive that the South has changed their ways in 30 years what took centuries to create?...no).

    I am confident that my African American borthers and sisters will look through the Republicans' ad campaigns and recognize what is in Harry Reid's heart and judge him "by the quality of his character."

    January 9, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. Koch

    The Republican party is just a bunch of bully's in the playground causing trouble. Abraham Lincoln would be ashamed of the current Republicans

    January 9, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  4. 31m-PA

    "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."

    Why would he think his RACE would help him more than hurt him? MLK is turning in his grave right now.

    January 9, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. Paul

    Yeah, let's all imagine that most negros don't have a "dialect." Ask nearly any adult American what the unspoken "negro dialect" is and they'll tell you or imitate it. So I guess if we don't at least speak it out loud we can all imagine it doesn't exist. (Sigh.)

    Hey, folks, it's NO BIG DEAL! Grow up. If black people are offended at this it's because they're ashamed of the way they talk. If they don't like the way they talk then they should change it. If they like the way they talk then this should not offend them at all. It's no different than a "Yankee" referencing the "southern dialect," or visa-versa. Most southerners I know (and I live in the deep south) LIKE the way they talk.

    Just another case of over-sensitive minorities looking for any reason to cry "foul!"

    January 9, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  6. Don

    I'm no fan of Harry Reid, but what he said is absolutely correct. Biden tried to say the same thing but stuck his foot in his mouth.

    January 9, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  7. anti NWO

    An elitst fool who is a danger to the United States!

    January 9, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  8. JP

    Reid feels being black would help Obama, that's because a white person with Obama total lack of experience would never have won the election. Now we have an incompetant president.

    January 9, 2010 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  9. 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 of 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 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  10. Me

    So, if I agree with Senator Reid I am some kind of bigot? (Even though, I too, voted for President Obama?). The man is correct. There is NO way that I can imagine a candidate like Rev. Jackson or Al Sharpton "crossing" the racial divide as easily as President Obama has. Color and dialect DO play a part in our society today, and this is not just a "black and white" issue. Variations in color from light to dark and clarity of speech from refined to "street" are huge issues within the black community as well. Sheesh,,,,,,

    January 9, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  11. judy

    Mr. Reid' s comment " negro comment" it is sad that a man like him made a very offensive comment. It does not matter if it was for the Pres nor to anyone. This type of comment is not a story anyway. I am a 3rd world country girl , I worked hard to accomplish the American dream , yet, oftentimes I encounter people who would asked me if I speak , read and write the english language, It is offensive but over the years I learned how to handle people who may be ignorant.

    January 9, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  12. terry

    harry say what you want.....but you are worthless in what you do like all others

    January 9, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  13. steve

    I see nothing wrong with this. It's a sign of intelligence and credibility to be capable of using proper English in speech without resorting to slang, "like in every sentance" or other ethnic/collogual terms no one understands. Why do you think news organizations look for Midwest anchors rather than rappers, sports stars, or celebrities to read the headlines?

    January 9, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  14. ed

    Of course It's o.k. Harry. After all you're a Democrat, and we all know that only conservatives can make racist remarks by saying something in opposition to Obama's agenda.

    January 9, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  15. Matt

    Where are the demands for Reid's resignation from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? If this had been any Republican making such racist comment you can be sure there would be picketing outside of the Capitol building. I guess it is not convenient for them to throw the race card out for Harry.

    January 9, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  16. samikep

    And to think that the majority of African-Americans vote for Democrats and the Republicans are always the onces looked at a racist...

    January 9, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. Dr. Pinkey

    Harry Reid has demonstrated that he is the epitome of cultural ignorance! What the hell is "Negro dialect"? I am African American and have never heard of such nonsense. Reid voiced his opinion, in private, of what some Caucasians (that's white people) think about African Americans. His statement by no means represents "White dialect" or does it? Stupid, stupid statement Harry Reid!

    January 9, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  18. Hate ah

    So when is he going to step down for this racist comment?

    January 9, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  19. John Tummolo

    Impeach this 1950s racist. He's clearly not fit for office. His comments are offensive and irresponsible. His decision-making incompetent. One down... more to go...

    January 9, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  20. Michelle

    Simply put, people want leaders who speak and act like educated individuals. Plenty of people in this country of ALL RACES speak like uneducated idiots. Likewise, we have people of all races with high levels of education. Should we also say that we don't want a president who speaks like a redneck? White trash? A hick?

    I work at a research university. The Ph.D.'s and M.D.'s who are running the labs come from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, and they all speak like EDUCATED PEOPLE. It's high time Americans stop characterizing people by their race, and start characterizing them by their individual behavior.

    Whether or not you agree with his political stance, Obama is an educated, eloquent individual. The color of his skin has nothing to do with the quality of his mind.

    January 9, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. Adrian

    Those comments are one that a black person can get away with but a white person cannot – not saying it is right or wrong – but that is just the way it is... And what is said is true... He could not sound like an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson and get the white votes he needed and would also have turned off a large percentage of black voters...

    January 9, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  22. A.

    Ok.. I guess some people still don't get that not every black person in America came from Africa. So how about we just start calling them black and leaving it at that? Better yet, lets just quit letting color be an issue and instead of being black, white, red, yellow etc.. how about we are all just HUMAN? As for Mr. Reid, he should step down, I for one have zero tolerance for racists and those who use racist remarks.... fyi, I am "white".

    January 9, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. logan

    you said it you can't take it back..

    January 9, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  24. Pat Tibbs

    Ha ha ha ha ha! The GOP is pointing fingers & suggesting that Harry Reid is racist? Priceless. These "people" just won't stop at anything to separate themselves from the mainstream.

    It's obvious that Harry Reid could have been more politic in expressing a belief that Barack Obama could win not just in spite of his color but because of it, but let's be blatantly honest: no Republican, especially of the "modern" variety, should be pointing fingers at any Democratic Party leader on this issue.

    January 9, 2010 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  25. Heleneirma

    Why are these white men such racists, Reid should have known better as he did work with Obama when they were both Senators. He should have seen that Obama is an intellect and even if he did have a dialect it would have not been a Negro one, and if he did have one it wouldn't have meant anything and should not be judged by such racist comments, also it doesn't matter if his skin is light or dark, he would still be the same person. Shame, shame Harry Reid!!!

    January 9, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
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