Commentary: We must confront racism head-on

The black-and-white divide will remain a crippling issue in this country as long as Americans refuse to talk candidly about race. Sadly, it often appears that we aren't much closer to engaging in those discussions than we were when Martin Luther King Jr. was dreaming of the day when people would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

"Who’s the racist now?" blasted from angry e-mails last week in the wake of the revelation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to candidate Barack Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Reid, as quoted in a new book, Game Change, was discussing the Illinois senator’s suitability as the Democrats’ nominee for president.

The Republicans labeled the "what’s the big deal?" response on the part of Democrats a "double standard," given the cries of "racist" that were directed at GOP Sen. Trent Lott in 2002 after he suggested the country wouldn’t be in the pickle it was in if Strom Thurmond had won his 1948 presidential bid as the segregationist party’s candidate.

Lott stepped down as Senate Minority Leader in December 2002. He remained in the Senate another five years before resigning.

Reid also drew criticism from some blacks, but not because they thought his comment was racist. They were vexed by his use of the term "negro," which hasn’t been heard much in daily conversation since King, while sitting in a Birmingham jail, wrote his open letter to the white clergy and, indeed, all of America.

People will determine for themselves whether they believe Reid’s inelegantly framed comment was racist. But if Republicans were completely honest with themselves, they would admit that many of them engaged in almost identical conversations prior to the 2008 primaries. The only difference was the names of the possible presidential candidates: Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.