John McWhorter has given a linguist's take on Harry Reid's recent comment concerning Obama's language.
It’s a love/hate relationship we have with black speech. On the one hand we associate it with emotional honesty, vernacular warmth, and sex – Marvin Gaye would not have had a hit with “Why Don’t We Venture to Consummate Our Relationship?” or even “Let’s Have Sex” instead of “Let’s Get It On.” Yet it’s not a dialect – a sound – that we associate with explaining Greek verbs or cosines or engaging in complex reasoning. Black English sounds cool, and even hot, and maybe “sharp” – but note that sharp is what you call someone who you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be smart ... and who you don’t actually think is all that smart.
It is a touchy subject. I remember during the OJ Simpson trial, when a witness said he could tell the the person yelling was black, outwardly I reacted to that comment and called it racist. Inwardly, though, I thought to myself, "Yes, I could see that." I just didn't want to admit it, hypocrite that I am.