Well, Chris Matthews is getting attacked and pilloried all over the Twitter Universe today because he apologized on behalf of all white people for all the abuses that blacks have had to endure. His final remark in an interview in which his two very accomplished guests spoke about their bad experiences (prejudice, discrimination profiling, etc.) many years ago as young black men was the following:
“We have to continue this conversation, gentlemen, privately and on television….I mean, a lot of people out there — I will just tell you one thing. And I’m speaking now for all white people, but especially who have had to tried to change the last 50 or 60 years. And a lot of them have really tried to change….And I’m sorry for this stuff. That’s all I’m saying.”
NOTE: Please see the link below for the entire transcript of his interview with Val Nicholas, vice president and creative director at NBC News, and former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.
My view, though a bit nuanced in some respects, is a dissenting one. Sure, I think it was presumptuous and inappropriate for Chris Matthews to say he was speaking for all white people. He went too far; he should have just apologized (if he felt it necessary to do so) for himself. He could have added (if he wished) that there are many other white people who feel as he does. That would be an accurate statement.
Speaking for myself, I know that our treatment of black Americans is one of the stains on our history–as is our treatment of native Americans (still called Indians by some Americans). Slavery and the later Jim Crow laws were an abomination–as are the vestiges of slavery–the civil rights struggles, subtle and blatant discrimination, prejudice, and profiling. I wish with all my heart that it had never happened–that it were not happening STILL today. I wish that it were NOT true that far too many black children are born into poverty, and that others who are born into better circumstances still experience racism–as children, teenagers, and even as successful adults in all walks of life. Yet, unfortunately, it IS true–prejudice still exists and for the black child and adult, it is often ubiquitous. It exists at every level of society.
Is EVERYONE prejudiced? Of course not! I know that I and so many–so very many–of my friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances strongly believe in—and PRACTICE–judging people NOT by their color (or their religion or their ethnic origin) but by the content of their character. As a teacher and a principal, I taught this fairness, respect, and kindness day in and day out–as did my colleagues—as do so many of you as parents. Still, I feel terrible about what black families have had to endure in the past–and what many continue to endure. For me, the apology works, I would have offered it myself–and have done so previously. The key is that Mr. Matthews (despite what I feel were the best of intentions) should have focused on himself and his own feelings and apology, and should not have tried to speak for others.
I can’t conclude without noting, however, that apologies should NOT be our main focus at this point. The overarching issue is what can we DO–and what are we GOING to do–in order to ensure equal opportunity and equal treatment for all Americans–regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Let us try to spend more time, thought, and energy in discussing THESE questions, and not pile on Chris Matthews for an earnest, albeit unwise, apology.