Just wild about Harry

Once upon a time when we were Negroes….
The scholar Sylvia Wynter tells the account of the Portuguese encounter with the ruler of the Congo in the late 1400s in her book Do Not Call Us Negros: How Multicultural Textbooks Perpetuate Racism.
Much larger and wealthier than their Portuguese counterparts, King Affonso had allowed the sale of “lineageless” men from other nations to the Portuguese, only to learn that the Portuguese were indiscriminately kidnapping his subjects. In a letter to the Portuguese king, the Congolese ruler made a distinction between his citizens, called in Portuguese “prieto” and those in the slave trade, “negros.”
I’m reminded of the passage when reading about the book quote from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in which he touts then-candidate Barack Obama for not being “light-skinned” and not having a “Negro dialect.”
The debate is happening in a sea of ignorance and denial.
Reid’s assessment is actually supported by a couple of social science studies, one which notes that high ranking African-American executives in business were more likely to have a “baby-face” and others which describe the disparate impact among hiring officers when candidates have names common among black families.
It’s not different than the searing analysis in Chris Rock’s Good Hair or Spike Lee’s School Days, about the color consciousness within the black community.
From a context standpoint, there is nothing pejorative about the name Negro, which is found in most of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings and speeches and still comes off the lips of many African-American senior citizens.
One of our other authors, the late Anna Lee Walker, in Reach Wisely: the Black Cultural Approach to Education, suggests that the varying terminologies for African-Americans over their sojourn in the United States speaks mostly to the ascendance of different classes, often based around color distinctions.
The comment basically dates Sen. Reid, a Mormon who would have grown up being told that Negroes were not allowed to be priests in his church. For him to come from that background and strategize, however inelegantly, about making an African-American president is something to be saluted.
With 15 percent unemployment and a boatload of health and economic disparities, being called a Negro is not at the top of my priority list to get concerned about.