Thursday, January 28, 2010

Schooling Tweety (And Others)

Last night after President Obama's State Of The Union address, Chris Matthews had this to say on MSNBC,

I had a lot of things I wanted to say about how ignorant the comment of his was about forgetting President Obama was black for an hour was, but then I happened upon TNC's post on it and felt like his response said most of what I wanted to say.

One way to think about this is to flip the frame. Around these parts, we've been known, from time to time, to chat about the NFL. We've also been known to chat about the intricacies of beer. If you hang around you'll notice that there are no shortage of women in these discussions. Having read a particularly smart take on Brett Favre, or having received a good recommendations on a particular IPA, it would not be a compliment for me to say, "Wow, I forgot you were a woman." Indeed, it would be pretty offensive.

The problems is three-fold. First, it takes my necessarily limited, and necessarily blinkered, experience with the fairer sex and builds it into a shibboleth of invented truth. Then it takes that invented truth as a fair standard by which I can measure one's "woman-ness." So if football and beer don't fit into my standard, I stop seeing the person as a woman. Finally instead of admitting that my invented truth is the problem, I put the onus on the woman. Hence the claim "I forgot you were a woman," as opposed to "I just realized my invented truth was wrong."

Ditto for Chris Matthews. The "I forgot Obama was black" sentiment allows the speaker the comfort of accepting, even lauding, a black person without interrogating their invented truth. It allows the speaker a luxurious ignorance--you get to name people (this is what black is) even when you don't know people. In fact, Chris Matthews didn't forget Barack Obama was black. Chris Matthews forgot that Chris Matthews was white.

To that I will just add this, I don't think Tweety in his whole life has or would say he forgot a white person was white when he was speaking to them and really that goes to the bullshit standard floating around about who "real Americans" are. The comment he made really could have come out of the mouth of Pat Buchannan because it had just the same kind of racial overtones. You see in order to make that statement, what you really have to believe is that it is the rare black person who can speak for the rest of America. That black people are somehow inherently predisposessed to only speak for other black people for the most part. And that all the abitions that we have and reach for are uniquely black and foreign to white Americans. That is patently absurd.

Until "good white people" like Chris Matthews, who really probably thought he was proffering a compliment, come to understand that WE are "real Americans" too, this is the kind of bullshit you can expect to slip out from time to time throughout President Obama's time and office, and even worse the mindset that will prevail even if not spoken outwardly.

So please Tweety, try not to do us any more favors, ok....

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