What Chris Matthews' "I forgot Obama was black for an hour" statement really means.

I could toss off some wry comment about this ridiculous comment by Chris Matthews, but the fact that he had no problem stating this on the air raises an interesting question — what is he really saying with a statement like that?

What it boils down to is that there’s something about being “black” to forget — such as um, being articulate, or educated, or perhaps in his mind, standing up there and doing the whole SOTU thing in the wake of a whole lot of white guys and guess what? He’s not all that different from any of them.

It’s almost a child-like expression of wonder, like that classmate of mine at Fordham who asked me if I could tan.  You just have to shake your head and think about how just how far we have to go when it comes to race, even if the person believes they are paying a “compliment.” That’s not a post-racial America, Chris.

UPDATE: He clumsily attempted to roll back what he said here. It’s clear Matthews meant well and thought the President’s speech was superb, but that’s not the point (and it’s not the time or space on TV to go into the deeper discussion); this is an example of how deeply embedded white privilege is embedded, even when no malice is intended.

The default view of successful leadership and its stature is presumed to be the domain of the white man, and when an accomplished black man rises to that position, he must have magically shed the negativity, ignorance and undereducated skin of the American black male to do so. That Matthews realized within moments what he said (even if he didn’t fully or deeply think about its origins) and tried to explain his thinking about that statement, it’s pretty clear that he couldn’t really go where the conversation needs to go on this matter.

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