Matthews on Obama: "I forgot he was Black"

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...full text also available on Truthdig borrowed from Time Magazine, Mirabella, America's Next Top Model, Amazon.Com, Official Tooth Fairy Website and Shepard Fairey

The second decade of the 21st century has ushered in changes in technology, economics, politics, culture and narratives of identification. From the advent of social media, to the Great Recession, to health care reform, to the revised racial categories on the U.S. Census, American lives are faced with increasing tensions and ambiguities. No single icon reflects these tensions and ambiguities, and the paradigm shifts they are inspiring, more cohesively than President Barack Hussein Obama.

Many argue that Obama’s election to the Presidency and status as global “supercelebrity” are signs that we have entered a post-racial moment in which everyone and everything is mixed. Among these is Chris Matthews of MSNBC. Matthews, in a very different take on Obama’s public image than Senator Reid, said Wednesday that “I forgot he [Obama] was black.” Not so fast, Chris Matthews. How could someone forget this important aspect of our President’s racial identity? What does this statement mean?

“I think Matthews intended this to be a positive statement,” says Dr. Rebecca Herr Stephenson a Media researcher at UC Irvine. “But I doubt whether audiences will receive it as he intended.” In other words, while the racial climate in the U.S. does reflect some progress, as Obama’s status evidences, the idea that race and/or racism is dead, ignores the salient fact that we continue to live in a society deeply influenced by race, with material consequences that affect life chances and go beyond black and white. Matthews jumped to this conclusion while ignoring much of daily reality for many Americans. He admitted as much when he declared, "I felt it wonderfully tonight, almost like an epiphany. I think he's done something wonderful. I think he's taken us beyond black and white in our politics."

“While there is some truth to the issue of progress in Matthews’s post-racial thesis, it is grounded in a privileged perspective that ignores what still needs to be done in order to achieve liberty and justice for all,” says Dr. Ulli Ryder a Professor at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. “From a lesser- or non-privileged perspective post-racial politicking is wishful thinking and must be mitigated by a closer look at social, political and cultural contexts. If we look at the ways in which we have dealt with events like Hurricane Katrina, increasing educational segregation, Wars against Islam, immigration reform and the privatizing of our prisons it is easy to see that we have much work left to do.”

So why, in the face of such turmoil, is there such a fascination with mixed race icons like President Obama? In a post-race nation, mixed raced people are presumed to be beyond the traditional concept of race as an observable set of fixed biological and temporal characteristics. If this is the case, then race can be considered a costume that can be put on and taken off whenever necessary and convenient. Within this context Matthews’s comments make a bit more sense. Here’s more of what he said: Obama “is post-racial, by all appearances. 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 past so much history, in just a year or two. I mean, it's something we don't even think about." Post-racial by all appearances? Forgot he was black for an hour? Let’s think about it.

“Because of their supposed superpower to transcend race, mixed race people are touted as a new model minority and can be propped up to denigrate other groups of color” warns Dr. Ryder. “From Vin Diesel, and Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a., The Rock) and Keanu Reeves to Tiger Woods, Mariah Carey, Mattel's Madison doll and American Idol’s Jordin Sparks, mainstream society is reminded that multiracialism is not only our destiny but our reality.” Popular reality television shows like America’s Next Top Model have even gone so far as to steer contestants through a makeover process in which they become biracial because the ethnically ambiguous look is the latest trend in marketing.

A quick look over recent decades reveals that this is really old news. We’ve been asked to celebrate several milestones of mixedness to prepare us for this alleged post-racial moment. Two milestones are virtual miscegenation in the form of a computer generated “image of the new Eve” as “the new face of America” on the cover of a November 1993 issue of Time Magazine and the model of digital pastiche on the cover of Mirabella in September 1994. Another milestone is the “check all that apply” option on the 2000/2010 U.S. Census as an opportunity to refute the need for future race based government initiatives. Then there’s the public presentation of race as a figment of the social imaginary per PBS in its 2003 three-part series entitled, Race: The Power of Illusion.

The latest milestone is the election of President Obama, whose image in the national imagination is interpreted as one of racial transcendence instead of an invitation to frank deliberation about the complexities and contradictions of race in America. Rather than simply declaring that considerations of racism and race are either wrong-headed or unnecessary, perhaps we can use Matthews’s gaffe to explain that we must contextualize race and racism, use logic to understand how conflicts and inequities emerged, and then make progress through honest communication and, ultimately, through legislation. Perhaps then we will see that Obama’s image is better interpreted as a prologue to interracial dialogue rather than as a post-racial epilogue.


I completely agree with Dr.

I completely agree with Dr. Dawkins and think the absurdity can also be summed in this phrase "I forgot Obama was white." Perhaps one day we can exist without the "either or" dichotomies and live in a world of "and without contradiction."

Multiracial and universal acceptance

I believe the multi-racial individual has a definitive advantage in being accepted by various groups. Case in point, when I worked in downtown LA, CA for several years, I didn't look like many of the individuals I was trying to assist. I had one woman call her case worker and ask to be reassigned to another instructor because I 'didn't speak English' or look like her (she assumed I was Hispanic). I had another woman ask to be reassigned because she believed the fact that I did not speak Spanish was a form of racism. So being judged by one's race, educational level, overall intelligence, appearance, language, mannerisms, etc. is a constant process implemented by every individual whether conscious or not. It's how we identify with others like us. Fortunately for multiracial folks, their universal look and mannerisms are often welcomed when shared similarities are identified, thereby assimilating the identity of 'insider' verses 'outsider' status. So If you're part of my group, I am going to focus on the things that are common to us and minimize specific differences such as race or appearance. In terms of racial transcendence, I believe Obama's appeal as a leader is based on a myriad factors in addition to being multiracial. Ironically, it's multiracial individuals that seem to lack meeting the status quo because it simply does not exist for them.


A Racist Wrapped in "Liberal Media" Rhetoric

Matthews is and always has been a loudmouthed moron. I really can't stand the way he uncritically pee'd himself over Obama during the campaign while simultaneously eviscerating Clinton. I cheered when he was nearly kicked off the air for that thinking (at last) I might be able to watch MSNBC again. Alas, that promise was too short lived.

It has always been obvious to me that Matthews is blinded by his own inability to get past those who look different from him, which in the early days resulted in him completely objectifying Obama ad nauseum. Perhaps what Matthews was really saying this time was "for one millisecond, I forgot he was black".

Hey, wasn't it NBC that use to host the Gong show back in the 1970s? Please, someone, pull that damn hammer back, hit the cymbal, and finally get this clown off my TV!!!!!!!!

I think Matthews's

I think Matthews's "forgetting" Obama is black simply reveals how Obama has entered a category of "likeness" to the dominant American archetype that allows him to transcend racial categorization (or perhaps makes racial categorization unnecessary outside of its descriptive viability). I'm not sure if that makes sense, but that's my 1-cent comment!



“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour” implies that Matthews thinks of him in terms of race all of the time. So much for post-racial. BTW...why are so few talking about the fact that Obama is multiracial (i.e., Black and White). Does that change our sense of him in a non- post-racial sense? I like the way you focused on that and how multiracials are wrongly being turned into post-racial icons. Thanks.

--Artie B.

post racism

I am white and not very proud of that these days. I am tired of the toxic racist comments arriving by email. How can you forget someone is "black"? Does that mean the he has now transcended his race and become an "acceptable " white?
Barack Obama is judged on every word he says, all taken out of context. He said "We won't quit". The email circulating is stating that he "arrogantly" said "we won't quit". If any other president had used those words, it would have been accepted and seen as a dedicated statement of American will.
I am proud of our president. He is doing what is good for the people. He will go down in history as one of our greatest presidents.
-Carol Brown


I am also white, but I can promise you that no one has ever said to me "Oh, by the way PJ, I forgot that you are white". With all the arrogant and stupid things I have ever heard Chris Matthews say....I must say this was just wrong and by the way, totally unprofessional, to say the least. (I'm trying so hard to be nice...although I'd like to play a round or two of "Hardball" with Mr. Matthews). LOL

Honestly, I just wish everyone would just stop acting and talking like a Racist, especially the ones who "claim" they are not racists. I have found in my 50 years on this earth that most people who gloat about how fair, non-racial and balanced they are.. well, sorry to say, but sometimes they are the worst racists I've ever known.

I just hope that people will soon get over it and come to the realization that we are all Gods' children and we all come in many different colors. A large variety of interesting faces makes this world a better place. It would be really boring if everyone looked alike and were all the same color. Personally, I have always enjoyed people for who they are, not what they look like or where they came from.

I am so hoping that before President Obamas' term is up....everyone will come to realize that WE HAVE NO PLACE IN OUR SOCIETY FOR RACISTS OR STUPID EMAILS FROM RACISTS!!!!!!


Matthews clarifies statements on Maddow

Spin factor

I'm sure Rush and Glenn will come up with some absurd way to capitalize on it.
john blumenthal

I am not a fan of Mr.

I am not a fan of Mr. Mathews..........He ripped off the format for the McGlaughlin group and his surface level analysis of issues is not something I admire!


Matthews can drive me crazy

Matthews can drive me crazy but I admit I sort of liked the chill up his leg, and even this comment...because his blurts, self-revealing and clueless, and sometimes sexist and/or racist...aren't hidden.

Most media folks wear slick plastic masks, and Matthews can't keep one on. That's kind of a relief (since he's not essentially hateful, I don't think...any more--though I used to).

I once was so furious about his constant stream of sexist remarks about Hillary that I described his "eyes glowing red". He affected me that negatively.

But I've stopped feeling that way (helped that my candidate got elected). Now when I happen upon his show I realize I like seeing someone in the media who appears still kind of eager and able to be emotionally affected,

Well I don't know what I'm talking about, to say "post" anything. But I think however amazingly unaware of his own non-PC nuances, it's not a terrible thing he said.

It was truthful. He forgot the President's skin color momentarily, which means most of the time, he's thinking about it. It showed how confusing and difficult it is for people to ferret out the racism in their own psyches.

Once people get beyond being offended, it could help dialogue.

Lesson to be learned

Is Obama black?
Lesson to be learned here, stop listening to Matthews.

Chris Matthews??

Correct me if I am wrong, but who listens or watches that sloppy mouth Chris Matthews anyway. Oh, I don't watch TV.
Oh, and here is a little thanks to you, "Post-Racial" and "Pro-Racial", these two terms you have introduced me to.

Are they in Wickapedia or Urban Dictionary yet?

And as far as Obama goes he may a well be Albino or whatever.

--Burgess Dillard

I wonder

I wonder what his mom would say.
Amanda Gulledge