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January 12, 2010 / andreasterzuk

Harry Reid: “No negro dialect”

If you’ve been following this news story, you’ll know that  during the 2008 election bid, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid described Barack Obama as a “light skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one”  and claimed that this would help rather than hurt Obama’s eventual presidential bid.

There’s been a lot of discussion (on- and off-line) about Reid’s choice of the controversial and archaic term “negro.”  I think it’s just as important to draw attention to his use of the term “dialect” and to the notion that some Englishes are better suited for powerful positions than others.   And while I think it’s important to acknowledge the kind of power held and not held by different varieties of English, I also think it’s important to acknowledge linguistic othering.  The words “negro” and “light-skinned” are not the only problematic parts of Reid’s statement.

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