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Which of these is racist: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Doritos commercial or the St. Petersburg Times’ Adam Smith?

in Peter/The Bay and the 'Burg by
Growing up in ’80s and early 90s, during those heady days of Do The Right Thing and Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird and New Edition, it was easier to discern what was racist and not racist. Four of Los Angelas’ finest beating up on Rodney King? Racist. Not giving an Oscar to Denzel Washington? Ridiculous, but not racist.

Twenty years later, with a black dude, err, an African-American in the White House and Flavor Flav and Ice-T on cable television, it’s not so, um, black-and-white on when an action or statement constitutes actual racism or is just plain boneheaded.

Three oh-so-minor controversies arose this week (one of them originated locally) to demonstrate, not what constitutes racism, but what doesn’t constitute racism.

Let’s start with that local story. The St. Petersburg Times’ Adam Smith, who I can’t remember making any sort of gaffe before, found himself in a pickle when he tweeted: “U know you’re at the wrong Rosen hotel for FL GOP confab, when lobby loaded with Af-Amercns checking in.” It didn’t take long for Smith’s words to ricochet through the twitterverse.

That prompted Representative Jennifer Carroll, Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida’s African American Leadership Council, to release a statement which said: “African Americans can assemble and participate in any organization they desire. Assembling of African Americans in any venue, regardless of who is meeting in that location should not astonish any one, let alone a seemingly open-minded reporter.”

Smith quickly posted an apology and the firestorm died down, I think as much as for the triviality of the issue as for fear of drawing the ire of the Times’ political editor.

I am not so worried about reprisals from Adam Smith, but I also don’t think there is a whiff of racism in Adam’s thinking. In fact, Adam said what needed to be said. He reminded us that there really isn’t an African American presence in the Florida GOP — Representative Carroll’s involvement notwithstanding. Charlie Crist actually had the audacity this week to say that he is most proud of embattled RPOF Chair Jim Greer for his work on “minority outreach.”

There is no explaination for why Harry Reid described in private then-Sen. Barack Obama as “light skinned” and “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” I just don’t know why someone, especially an elected official, would say something like that. It’s not racist, per se, because Obama is, well, light skinned, nor are Reid’s comments as offensive as previous comments by Trent Lott.

Unfortunately, the debate over health care may get hijacked by the controversy over Reid’s comments. But that pales in comparison to the repercussions that may stem from the controversy that would arise if Doritos pulled this commercial, which the website Bossip (as in Black Gossip), believes is racist, but what I just think is funny.

Actually, what’s really wrong about all this talk of supposed racism is that it distracts from true, horrifying racism, as shown in the video below (the beating of suspect Melvin Jones by 4 police officers)goes unnoticed by the blogosphere or the Twitterverse or by the elected officials.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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