My friend Chris Matthews from MSNBC is in trouble for saying that he forgot President Obama was black. What he was saying, consciously or not, was that when the president does everything right, he’s perceived to be white, and when things go wrong, people remember that he’s black.
I think Chris got caught up. Remember, it was just last week that he and I co-hosted the town hall meeting, “Obama’s America: 2010 and Beyond,” on an HBCU campus, at Texas Southern University. We all have white friends who, after being around us a lot, can sometimes get too comfortable and say something crazy. I think he had one of those moments where he thought he just say anything that came to mind and would get a pass. That’s never a good idea.
One of my favorite bits on the TJMS is the “Pull-Up Pal.” It’s a friend every player should have to remind him that he’s about to do something stupid. Well, our white friends sometimes need a black pull-up pal to tell them to pull up before they say something that will be perceived as wrong and racist, even if we know they probably aren’t. If Chris Matthews had run it by me, I would have told him, “Don’t say that, man. Sure, I know what you were saying – that during the State of the Union Speech, Obama was so presidential and commanding and had done so well that you didn’t see his color, that you just saw him as the president of the United States.”
In a white person’s mind, saying they forgot a person was black or didn’t see color – or want to live in color blind society – is a very high compliment. What our white friends need to understand, though, is that it really isn’t that complimentary to most black people. It implies that we think that in order to be accepted, approved of and perceived as excellent, we have to shed our “blackness.” We can or should be able to be all that and be as black as we ever were.
People seem to think deep down inside we want to be white, and that isn’t true … at least not for most of us. The Impressions asked this question back in the late 60s: “If you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose, my brothers? If there was no day or night, which would you prefer to be right?”
What a lot of people miss is yes, we want an end to racism, but even from the beginning, it’s never been about being or acting white and losing who we are. I love everything about being black. I love the way it looks to be black. I love our history. I love our culture, our language, our humor, our swagger. I don’t want a color blind society because I want people to see my blackness.
I don’t want Chris Matthews or anyone to forget that President Obama is a black man. If forgetting he’s a black man is a compliment, then remembering that he’s a black man is an insult, and I’m not with that at all. How about appreciating what this black man has accomplished? How about respecting and being proud of this black man?
Can you respect your brother’s woman friend
And share with black folks not of kin
I said now people must prove to the people
A better day is coming for you and for me
With just a little bit more education
And love for our nation
Would make a better society
And if you had a choice of colors,
Which one would you choose, my brothers?
Our bar is not to be white or colorless. Our bar is to be the best we can be as who we are – proud, black people. What most of us would like is a post-racist society, where racism no longer exists. Forget all this rhetoric about living in a post-racial society. I WANT to live in a racial society where every culture is embraced and respected, and you and I can be as black as we want to be. Say it loud!