Why Chris Matthews Went Colorblind

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[Comment: On Diversity]

So, by now you have probably heard the jokes and fallout over MSNBC political pundit Chris Matthews' infamous "postracial" comment.

In a moment of frat boy giddiness, an amped up Matthews was so excited by the greatness of the President's State of the Union address that he "forgot that the President was Black."

Believe it or not, I was not surprised to hear Matthews make this admission because he confirmed what I have suspected for years.

There are well-meaning White men who do not associate intellectual greatness and leadership with people of color.
We all make mistakes and I doubt that Matthews meant any harm by his comments. I have proudly watched Matthews defend President Obama against attacks by his more conservative brethren on MSNBC. His early support for Obama goes back to the days when he was a presidential candidate.

And, usually, Matthews' views on race are open minded.

Yet the ridiculousness of Matthews' comment exposed the subconscious lowered expectations that many White men harbor about people of color.

These lowered expectations help to explain why so many well-meaning White men marvel when they come across an intellectual powerhouse of color.

I'm sure that the following revelations sound familiar: "He is so articulate. He is so well spoken. He is such a clean guy."

Sure, Black men are admired for their talents, but it is usually in the context of being the entertainment. They are great musicians and athletes. But ultimately, they are the entertainment. When it comes to running a company, an organization and the United States of America, those levels of leadership go beyond the experiences and expectations of many well-meaning White men. Therefore when intellectual excellence is in the room, it is not normal to expect to see a Black man.

Many social commentators and comedians were even appalled that Matthews could even make the comment about forgetting that Obama was Black.

"How could Chris Matthews say that? Why would he say that?" It's simple. Chris Matthews operates from a point of privilege bestowed upon him by his whiteness.

This privilege gives him the liberty to see his whiteness as being the normative in American society and everything else as "othered."

Being white gives Matthews the privilege of forgetting to see an element of President Obama's identity. I wonder what President Obama started to look like to Chris Matthews.

Did Matthews still see him as a human being?

In the event that Matthews is open to making this a teachable moment, I would encourage him to learn why his comment was so inflammatory.

Forgetting Obama's race encompasses the challenges people of color encounter as we seek promotions, advancements and high-level leadership opportunities.

If people of color are not expected to be intellectually great, we will not be trusted to lead. And that's what makes Matthews' statement not only insensitive but also dangerous.

Holder-Winfield is a Diversity Lawyer

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