Saturday, February 06, 2010
Show Chris Matthews The Way...Seriously.
It is very easy to listen to what Chris Matthews said about President Barack Obama and cry racist or racial insensitivity. To those people who did so you're being a bit trigger-happy with your racial accusations. Clearly Matthews attempted to give praise to the president, and in the process used some unfortunate words in an uncomfortable fashion (he's on MSNBC for goodness sakes; they do nothing but praise Democrats).
I do not wish to diminish the relative power of the words Matthews spoke. The national conversation regarding race simply has not reached a point where a white person can say "I forgot he (Obama) was black" and expect to get away with it unscathed, no matter the useful purpose of those words. Too many times the media runs with stories concerning the worse stereotypes in people (a white person says a black man is articulate? Racist. A black person is wading through chest-high water with goods tucked under arm? Thief.). Matthews knows this. And if he doesn't know it, he should know it; either way I do not pity him specifically.
But isn't it also true that we black folks have created such a convoluted and meandering maze of what can and cannot be said about us that no one outside of our community can reasonably know what to say? We want outsiders to understand that racism has placed burdens and struggles upon us (which is true), yet we only allow a narrow path toward an acceptable method of praising a black person for overcoming those struggles. Furthermore, we don't let anyone else know how to navigate that narrow path, often times claiming that common sense should ultimately lead one to the promised land of congratulations-sans-offense. But the term "common sense" used in the context of race relations is as oxymoronic (is that a word?) as "compassionate conservative." Common sense doesn't exist in an intellectual space where most folks are not privy to the necessary information.
Jay Smooth once made perfect sense out of the "You Sound Like A Racist/You Are A Racist" conversation. That applies here. Yes, I cringed when Matthews said "I forgot he was black" because he sounded in condescending racism. But maybe black folks ought to open up and begin a dialogue with well-intentioned white folks, one that allows them an opportunity to specifically understand how to praise a black person for overcoming obstacles. This may sound silly (no, it definitely sounds silly), but I do think a simple whisper saying something like "pssst...just say he's the first politician -- black or white -- to transcend race" would suffice in situations like the one Matthews found himself in. Even if that statement isn't true, the sentiment is expressed without fear of pissing anyone off.
Something should be done in this regard if we want to even approach a day when race is both respected and transcended by the general population. It's simply not productive to cry racism (or, as it has been stated to me, "racist tendencies") every time a white person attempts to praise a black person and stumbles over the language.