About that “Negro dialect”…

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in political hot water this week for past remarks he made about President Obama’s race. According to the new book Game Change, Reid encouraged Obama’s run for the White House, in part, because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’

Long before Reid put his foot in his mouth, we at Studio 360 cleared ours, swallowed hard, and took an in-depth look at this very subject, although we prefer ‘blaccent’ — a term coined by linguist and race commentator John McWhorter. Back in October 2008 he told Studio 360 special correspondent Sarah Jones (a master of dialects herself) that Obama’s malleable speech patterns were the result of ‘code-switching.’ That’s where people naturally change the way they talk to reflect their audience, like his 2007 speech to a black church in Selma, Alabama.

As McWhorter says: ‘When he drops in that little flavor in his speeches it drives people crazy, and not only black people, because let’s face it there aren’t enough of us to turn an election. It’s the white people, it’s that value that it has.’

Whether it can turn an election in the future may depend less on Obama’s ‘blaccent,’ and more on how his colleagues talk about it.

Listen to Studio 360’s full report here

-Derek L. John

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