In which I explain to Chris Matthews that correlation is not causation.

28 Aug

So Chris Matthews was on The Colbert Report the other day, talking about his special on the Kennedys, and he said something that kind of irked. I was sort of thinking it might just be that I misheard or he misspoke, but whatever, I guess it’s ~timely~.

Colbert: Why the Kennedys, Chris? Why talk about these guys now?

Matthews: Because I can — because I think American politics for the last forty or fifty years would’ve been completely different without them. I think they changed everything. I think — you wanna ask me why?

Colbert: Why?

Matthews: Okay. Well we can start with they saved us from nuclear war in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the two Kennedy brothers, they created the civil rights movement, back before they came along they had “white only” on restrooms, “white only” on soda fountains, water fountains, all across a big part of the —

Fortunately at this point, Stephen Colbert interrupts him to say that he loved JFK’s “I have a dream speech”. This is good because otherwise I would have to punch Chris Matthews. Unfortunately he then goes on to get a little defensive and say “well, they did it, they did civil rights, they created it”, so seriously, Chris Matthews, shut up.

I don’t disagree that the Kennedys had a huge impact on the face of American politics, actually, nor that they did a lot for the civil rights movement, but to credit them with creating it is so fucking stupid and offensive and detracting from the actual black people who were involved from the beginning, I can’t even. There’s this phenomenon in some geek circles, a movie trope referred to as what these people need is a honky, and I’m going to rely on that to describe what Chris Matthews is crediting the Kennedys with doing here.

Leaving aside how offensive this is — or, actually, let’s face it, just getting offended from another angle, becuase it’s me we’re talking about here — this also shows a huge level of ignorance of history, because no, the civil rights movement did not actually begin in the 1960s. Leaving aside that “the civil rights movement” can refer to a whole boatload of different things (lol trying to get historians to agree on anything), and assuming for the moment that Matthews is referring to the American movement of the mid-20th century, the decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was handed down in 1954, and Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. JFK and RFK did a lot to help the civil rights movement (as, for that matter, did Ted) and that’s awesome and deserving of respect and recognition, but they did not fucking create it.

In conclusion: no, Chris Matthews, no.


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