Why I Need to Stop Laughing about Harry Reid

WRITER’S NOTE: please take time to pray for Haiti as they suffer through earthquake surges (one which was 7.0 on the Richter scale), with little aid or resources. The capital city is in ruins.

You may have heard this infamous quotation by now:

WRITER’S NOTE: please take time to pray for Haiti as they suffer through earthquake surges (one which was 7.0 on the Richter scale), with little aid or resources. The capital city is in ruins.

You may have heard this infamous quotation by now:
In discussing President Barack Obama in an interview for a book not yet published, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he thought that the United States was ready to elect a "light-skinned" black man "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

This was a compliment. Hilarious.

Then I read this op/ed piece in the Wall Street Journal (composed by an African-American, if that matters), which basically said, “what’s the big deal about what Harry Reid said? Everyone’s just too sensitive about race.”


Oh, yeah – then I read this piece from Fox News; the Republican response to all-too-swiftly forgiving Democrats, stating that if Trent Lott could be skewered to the point of resignation for his racist remarks, then why not Harry Reid?


The truth is, until this week, I had no idea who Harry Reid was. Now, he’s the rope in the middle of a political tug-of-war. And I find myself bitterly laughing about the whole episode. Why?

-Republicans’ assertion in connecting Reid’s comments to Trent Lott’s missteps or, somehow, to implications of bad healthcare reform, seems pretty laughable to me. They are seeking ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’, not because they are offended by the language, but because they have an angle.

-Democrats are willing to ‘forgive’ Harry Reid – and not Trent Lott – because Reid furthers their agenda.

Isn’t that funny?

Laughing just about keeps me from crying.

Crying about the fact that Harry Reid’s comments stung. He shouldn’t have said what he did. Who on earth uses the term ‘negro’ anymore (except, I guess, people in Ward Connerly’s world)?

Crying about the fact that some Republicans, in playing tit-for-tat, seemed to have missed the part where Trent Lott lamented that a segregationalist should have been President to prevent all our present problems. Problems, I guess, like integration. I’m a poster child for the ‘problems’ that would have been solved by a President Strom Thurmond.

Crying about the fact that this system of government (which I love and pledge allegiance to) has serious integrity problems. That’s why I’m a registered Independent.

Crying – but just a little – at the ‘inside’ conversations of skin color and dialect that have come to the fore through Reid’s comments. Although we wouldn’t discuss this in the political sphere, many of us in the Black community know of the historic favortism associated with those of lighter hue.

What makes me weep the most about this Reid episode is that it is so keenly familiar. Well-meaning but hurtful words from a stand-up guy that cuts certain listeners to the quick.

I’ve heard this stuff at church and at seminary from people who are on the ‘same side’ – the Lord’s side.

‘You’re from the Bronx? But you’re so articulate.’
‘What did you do to get into Columbia?’
‘People should worship where they feel comfortable. That’s usually with their own kind.’
‘Men come to seminary to get their ThM. Women come to get their MrS.’
‘Nothing. But their music is good.’ [A theology professor’s response when asked what people of color contributed to American theology.]

What should my response be? Should it be more like the Democrats with Reid? Unquestioning forgiveness in order to further God’s agenda? Or should it be like the Republicans? Should I point to another ghastly example of Christian hatefulness and demand retribution?

Or should I just laugh and keep going, carrying the pain and bearing the cost of another’s ignorance?

I’ve done all three for the sake of church unity, and frankly, they’re all unsatisfying. Forgiveness of faux pas that affect the community, without discussion and attempts at reconciliation, leads to silent stratification and stunted growth. Tit-for-tat tactics don’t work in a church full of sinners; no one has a leg to stand on, and Jesus’ message of forgiveness, new life, and transformation gets warped and reduced to fear-mongering, hateful platitudes.

And frankly, I can’t carry the pain or bear the cost of other people’s ignorance. My back’s already saddled with my own. Eventually, bitterness smothers forced smiles.

I believe Galatians has the remedy to this laughing matter. Read Paul’s words to the Galatians about his run-in with Peter (also called Cephas, who was chilling happily with the Gentile Christians until the Jewish Christians came to tell Gentiles to be Jews first, then Christians. Peter, though he knew better, wouldn’t refute that circumcision was a part of the Christian mandate):

[bible]Galatians 2:11-21[/bible]


The truth is, we all have an angle. All of us. If Peter, who literally walked with Jesus, needed to be checked, so do we. Forgiveness without compassionate confrontation can be useless. Seeking retribution is fruitless. Bitter laughter always leads to tears.

My wholeness (and the wholeness of those whose hope is in Jesus) lies here, in Galatians 2:20-21: "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!"

Sharifa Stevens is a Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised child of the King, born to Jamaican immigrants, and currently living in Dallas. Sharifa's been singing since she was born. Her passion is to serve God's kingdom by leading His people in worship through music, speaking and writing, and relationships with people. Her heart is also unity, inspired by John. Sharifa hates exercise but likes Chipotle, bagels with a schmeer and lox, salmon sushi, chicken tikka, curried goat (yeah, it's good) with rice and peas, and chocolate lava cakes. She's been happily married to Jonathan since 2006...and he buys her Chipotle.


  • SonShine

    Second AMEN

    Way to go! Thanks for the blog and keeping us on the right path and saying what needs to be said. Galatians is the right passage to reveal where our heart really is through the interchange between Paul and Peter.

    Love ya

  • Lael Arrington

    Harry Reid *and* Pat Robertson

    Sharifa, I appreciate your articulate response to Trent Lott, Harry Reid, Democrats, Republicans. Reminds me of athe current discussion over Pat Robertson’s claim that

    • Sharifa Stevens


      Lael, thank you for the blog suggestion, and for tying in the recent Pat Robertson media storm with the issues of forgiveness, confrontation, and retribution that I’m grappling with in this piece. And thanks for the encouragement!

      Another blog perspective I really appreciated on Pat Robertson is Jim Denison’s "Haiti and the Devil" – both Part I

  • Lorraine Smith

    Your recent blog article regarding Harry Reid’s quote..
    You write so beautiful and with such heartfelt passion. I moved to another state from living in the Bronx all my life and I too have on occasion suffered from remarks and comments on my New York (Bronx) accent and, although it may not be as dramatic as Harry Reid’s remark, it can be damaging and still puts a damper on the relationships that I had hoped would have developed in my new home. I never could express how I felt and you have expressed exactly it. Thank you sincerely for your article and please realize that it must touch many people with many other happenings in their lives even if they are on a different scale or subject. I even bought a program that promised to change your accent to a more desireable one. I am too old for success in what they were trying to teach me. I feel so much better after reading your blog.