In the 24 hours since Chris Matthews claimed to have forgotten that President Obama was black for an hour during the State of the Union Address, a general concensus has been reached that the term ‘post-racial’ should only be used by those who pride them selves for their ignorance.
I like TNC’s assessment of Matthews’ statements overall– it’s an excellent breakdown. However, I feel it is lacking in one respect. In short, his assessment is that Matthews tried to compliment the President while making incredibly offensive implications, and his conclusion is that the real issue with Matthews’s statement is about persevering white ignorance and not black success. Despite TNC’s thorough discussion of why it is offensive to position blackness and success/greatness as mutually exclusive properties, and why whites are prone to such ignorance, I was disappointed that nothing has been said about the fact that black people and white people are STILL really fucking proud that the country finally elected a black president.
Matthews said: “He’s gone a long way to become a leader of this country and past so much history in just a year or two. I mean it’s something we don’t even think about.” First issue with this snippet: As so many have pointed out, I don’t think it’s true that “we” (by which Matthews must mean white people) no longer think about Obama’s race; it is a fact that there are still white-supremacist groups (fringe though they may be) that hate the president and white bigots who think it’s shameful that a black person is president.
Second issue which I’m more interested in because it hasn’t been mentioned much: Why is it taken as a sign of progress that “we don’t even think about” it??? Everyone of any sort of racial awareness seems to agree that the concept of “post-racial” is ridiculous at this point in time and is not even useful as a hypothetical. If so many agree that “post-racial” is a flawed idea, why aren’t more people willing to celebrate– even a year after the swearing in– the very significant milestone in our country’s history and progress?
Obviously I am not saying that we give the President a free-pass or brownie points for being black when we evaluate his performance. Personally, I thought the SOTU was satisfactory; I liked Obama’s demanding tone, and was glad that he defended the outcomes (insufficient as they are) of the Recovery Act, but was disappointed by the small amount of attention he paid to the wars and to the need for health care reform. Criticism of his address aside though, Obama’s presence on my TV managed to make me consciously happy, for a few distinct seconds here and there, quite simply because he is the first black president!
I am not suggesting that Race Has Been Solved By Obama. I am just saying that I am proud of the progress that Obama’s presidency signifies, and I hope that it is a harbinger of more equality to come. If commentators like Matthews were still commenting that “isn’t it just amazing that we finally have an African American in office” and “to think that just 35 years ago, African Americans hadn’t yet been legally guaranteed voting rights” and “this presidency will be cemented in history as a milestone for all Americans”, etc., I would probably be pretty bored, and I’m sure that many other racially offensive gaffs would be made, but I would not fault the media for continuing to celebrate Obama’s election.
We Americans of all races do still think about the President’s race because it is still important.