Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chris Matthews: "I forgot he was black tonight"

You know, I was trying to think about who he was tonight. And, um, it’s interesting. He is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour. You know, he’s gone a long way to become a leader of this country and passed so much history in just a year or two.

--Chris Matthews on Barack Obama's State of the Union speech

I am struck dumb by Chris Matthews'...well...DUMB assertions about Barack Obama and race last night on MSNBC. It's not that I don't know that many people actually think these things; it's just that modern-day race bias tends to be covert, sneaky, often disguised as something different. Matthews' bias was shocking in its shamelessness and nakedness.

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend weighed in:

What it boils down to is that there's something about being "black" to forget -- such as um, being articulate, or educated, or perhaps in his mind, standing up there and doing the whole SOTU thing in the wake of a whole lot of white guys and guess what? He's not all that different from any of them.

It's almost a child-like expression of wonder, like that classmate of mine at Fordham who asked me if I could tan. You just have to shake your head and think about how
just how far we have to go when it comes to race, even if the person believes they are paying a "compliment." That's not a post-racial America, Chris.

Yes. It is like the many classmates I had in college that assured, "You're not like other black people"..."I don't mean you; you're different"..."You're cute for a black girl." These comments, and Matthews' gaffe, reveal an inherent belief in white supremacy, an understanding that positive traits are the antithesis of blackness. They communicate that there is something that must be overlooked about blackness, that the ultimate compliment to a person of color is that markers of their color and culture have been erased--that for a moment, they have achieved the ultimate--whiteness.

Matthews defiantly tried to defend his statement, but didn't really succeed:

No, Chris. Thanks for "mansplaining," but race is sadly always in the room, no matter how high a person of color rises. Your reaction to President Obama proves that.


Cindy said...

So happy you commented on Chris Matthews stupid statement. For all his liberal leanings, Chris Matthews often leaves me feeling he is just an idiot. Last night was no exception. Thankfully I didn't hear it directly since I turned off the TV once the commentary began.

It is disappointing that we still want PoC to transcend their race. The underlying implication that PoC immediately start from a "less than" position.

I don't remember the last SoTU address I've actually watched. Just couldn't handle the lies. I sat last night in rapt attention as I watched our President take responsibility, stand tall and push forward.

I also cannot emphasize the continued relief in hearing a distinguished man who can string together two coherent sentences. (It's been a long dry spell of listening to an C-Student 8th grader speak like a school yard bully.) I never once forgot he was black. In so many ways I don't really care about his race. I saw our President, the leader of the free world, addressing the nation.

windy city girl said...

I posted a link to Matthews' gaffe on an online community I participate in. I was taken aback at how many people responded "oh, I totally get what he's saying." And yes, some of my respondents were black. Lots of respondents were like "he just means we're used to having a black president now." Sigh. How does one even respond to such thinking?

Linda said...

What Chris Matthews said was undoubtedly stupid. But I was called racist earlier today for talking about transcending race (in a totally different context). Why is that a bad thing? I understand ethnic identity, but I don't think it should define us (and I do realize that some people don't have a choice).

Tami said...


I don't know the context of your "transcending race" comment, so it's hard for me to comment.

I will say that "transcending" implies that someone's race is a challenge to overcome--an idea that would be offensive to more people of any race. Also, the notion of transcending race is most often used with people of color, implying (again) that being non-white is something to be transcended. One rarely hears the comment: "Wow! He was so good up there...articulate. I forgot he was white for a minute. He really transcended race." This is essentially why people have a problem with the idea of "transcending race.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Tami, I decided not to write on this, which is what I do when my head either explodes or I feel I'm numb from it all. Thank you for hitting it with the right amount of annoyance.

It's statements like this that make me even more pleased that some students recite my poem "Behind the Color Blind", which was written long before Obama ran for office but works well for the craziness that leaves people's mouths these days. The whole we-see-no-color/post-racial swill actually highlights that we still clearly see color but in the most warped ways.

Chris Matthews showed us his limitations again.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

I think what irritated me about Matthews' statement was the impression it gave that he constantly thinks of Obama as a BLACK MAN - like OMG the president is black - OMG the president is black - and he was proud of himself because for one brief moment he was able to lay that aside. When Bush or Clinton said something that Matthews was interested in, did he forget that that president was white?

I have also gotten the "women are like this and that" and then "I wasn't talking about you, Laura" and it is very irritating.

Rosa said...

It wasn't until recently, given the ignorance he spouts, that I realized that Chris Matthews is supposedly a liberal pundit. I always just assumed that his ignorant mess springs from right-wing foolishness. Maybe that makes me no better than he is: I almost forgot he was liberal!

Too twisted.

This idea of "transcending race" is...disturbing. As a Latina, I have no problems with embracing my "race," no desire to transcend it. It's almost like white folks think they're doing me a favor when they forget that I'm not like them. Oh Lord, I've been Whitewashed! (I'm Clean! Articulate! Educated!)

Ay yi yi.

Inda Lauryn said...

I just commented on another blog that I don't expect the anchors at MSNBC to be above making stupid comments every once in a while, but this points at a problem within so-called liberal white communities. Womanist musings posted: "To[o] bad no Black person is allowed to forget for a single day because of the racism that is constantly thrown at us." Good to know Matthews is allowed to forget. As if blackness can't speak to universality or for the country.

Anonymous said...

I don't like how many people see Obama as having to carry race relations on his back. It is not Obama's job to change the minds of every single American. When will America realize Obama is NOT a magician.

One man cannot change millions of people. Forgetting about someone's race doesn't solve America's race problem. Each person has to look within themselves and question their own beliefs and negative prejudices.

The term 'post-racial' is a sad attempt to make America's long and complex racial issues vanish into thin air. It is not so simple.

The New Black Woman said...

When I was in high school, I had one white chick say, "Your hair isn't like the others' hair, short and dry" or something to that nature.

Anyway, Chris Matthews is just plain ignorant. Is it me, or has anyone else noticed how he is obsessed with Pres. Obama's race?

Reggie said...

I like Chris Matthews and I always have and I'm sure I always will. I understand what he was trying to do; as I'm sure most people understood. But he ended up caught up in that American tar baby called race. We all keep trying not to focus on race or just tiptoe around it; but the reality is that race is a real issue for us. We need a national dialogue on it, our president would be the perfect person to facilitate it. Problems and viruses don't just go away, we need to talk about it.


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