Deconstructing Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews on MSNBC: “I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”

There will undoubtedly be a lot of conversation about Chris Matthews potentially well-intentioned, albeit totally misguided, attempt to talk about the ways in which Obama’s leadership affected him last night. He’s already attempted to clarify, talking about how miraculous he found it that race, Obama’s racial identity in specific, wasn’t a part of the analysis or interpretation of the State of the Union. He said: “I saw it almost like an epiphany. I hope it’s true. I hope what I saw is true that we’ve gotten beyond it, at least at the presidential level…He’s taken us beyond black and white in our politics.”
First things first, race consciousness is not something you take on or off like a pair of glasses. Pundits may not have immediately followed Obama’s speech with, “Well, he sure did talk about the economy well for a black guy,” but that doesn’t mean that their interpretation wasn’t influenced by their own relationship to race, their subconscious stereotypes etc. There is no such thing as race-less political analysis, at least not in this country, at this time and place. (No such thing, I might add, as a gender-less political analysis either.)
What is important, and I think this is what Matthews was actually trying to articulate, though very badly, is that Obama’s racial identity has become a more intrinsic part of the punditry’s interpretation. There are great things about this…finally we are spending valuable airtime looking at his policies, his leadership styles, and his vision, rather than the campaign-era where every other thing out of a pundit’s mouth was about identity politics (for the record, some of this forwarded a conversation about race in this country, although too much of it was inane and distracting). There are also dangerous things about this…guys like Chris Matthews can feign excitement over racism being over, when in fact, it is very much still at work in both our personal perceptions and our nation’s most powerful institutions. Some might be attracted to the notion that if we don’t say it at the beginning, middle, and end of every broadcast, than it’s no longer an issue, but that’s just not true.
At this point, in this country, there is no “beyond” race. There is the new capacity to background racial identity and prioritize other issues–the economy, healthcare, foreign policy–but all of these issues are inextricably tied up in race (and gender and class and…).

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6 Comments

  1. LalaReina
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Chris Matthews is a fool. Period. I’m Hispanic and herto. I don’t watch Rachel Maddow thinking “but she is gay and white”. I mean WTF. I can’t even wrap my mind around that so condescending level of dumb. So is this why unless the topic is race or gender all the commentators have to be white men?

  2. cattrack2
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “First things first, race consciousness is not something you take on or off like a pair of glasses.”
    Well sure it is. While still a prevalent theme, race doesn’t permeate every aspect or incident of American life as it once did. And to the extent that it still bubbles up its as often done by ethnic groups themselves as by white media. And as an African American this is a good thing. Blacks were proud when Tony Dungy became the 1st black coach to win the Super Bowl. There was much less coverage on race however when Mike Tomlin became the 2nd. And if on Feb 7th Jim Caldwell becomes the 3rd there may not be any coverage on it at all…To cite a different example: OJ’s 2nd trial was not even half as divisive as was his 1st trial.
    As a white baby boomer who is deeply concerned about resolving race issues Chris Matthews undoubtedly spoke a truth: That finally a large segment of his peers are judging Obama by the content of his character (and performance!) and not the color of his skin. As MLK said the Arc of History is long but it bends toward Justice.

  3. cattrack2
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t watch Rachel Maddow thinking “but she is gay and white”.
    Perhaps you don’t, but there are a lot of Feministing readers who love the fact that she’s openly gay. Do you remember the “I

  4. LalaReina
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    That’s fine but that is not what I’m talking about, as a Puerto Rican I’m thrilled Justice Sotomayer is on the Court. About Rachel I’m saying I like her and I like her show and that is all that is relevant to me.

  5. Jjuliaava
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    While still a prevalent theme, race doesn’t permeate every aspect or incident of American life as it once did.
    You sure about that?
    Yo! What Chris Matthews said was, in all honestly, a foot-foot-in-the-mouth freudian slip, however, it is difficult not to be at least slightly offended because he said it directly after the first african-american president’s first state of the union address! I was in my living room feeling super hyped, thinking, yes we can! and then matthews opens his trap.
    If his point was to mention that the speech was void of race as an issue, then, thanks for bringing it up, i guess…

  6. LalaReina
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    You are of course always aware of race/gender/ whatever and that is cool I’m proud of what I am,I don’t want it “forgotten” Matthews made it sound like a disability to be overcome or something.

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