So this whole thing with Chris Matthews “forgetting that Obama is black” falls into that same range of racism as “Pretty for a black girl” and the “You’re not like those other black people” claptrap often espoused by the “I’m not racist, but…” crowd. They’re coded as compliments, but the subtext is still an ugly one that frames racism as being the fault of the oppressed. After all, if we’d all just be a credit to our race then our problems would go away right? Right. Oh wait, no that’s completely wrong.
Let me give you a quick history lesson on American race relations and what can happen when black people in this country are just going about their business. We can start with Rosewood, Florida. Now let’s move on to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and of course the riots that broke out right here in Chicago. What’s that? Oh, you think the early 20th century is ancient history? Okay. Let’s talk about a Baptist church in Selma, Alabama. Still too far in the past? Okay. Let’s come forward to cases like Lenard Clark’s or Abner Louima’s. Or this one on New Year’s Day 2010.
This incidents are as much a part of America’s racial history as the “I have a Dream” speech, traffic lights (invented by Garret A. Morgan, peanut butter, open heart surgery (successfully pioneered by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams), and all the other positive moments like the election of President Obama. I’ve heard people that claim to be colorblind (or post-racial) insist that the future hinges on seeing people without including race. Of course their future seems very…pale with some of the same people complaining about the continuing existence of institutions like the NAACP, HBCU’s, and other organizations that predate the Civil Right’s Movement.
I’ll buy that part of the problem is the failure of our educational system to teach history comprehensively, but that’s not the only reason for these attitudes. America’s efforts to “transcend” race are still about America’s efforts to forget the past entirely and of course to ignore anything happening right now that might require confronting reality. Racism isn’t going to go away as long as we try to pretend that ignoring race is a solution. The idea that race is something for POC to overcome is the equivalent of buying racism a new costume to replace the old hood.