Chris Hayes and the Racial Underbelly of “Hero”

Chris Hayes and the Racial Underbelly of “Hero”


Open mouth. Then insert foot.

That is how many have described MSNBC host Chris Haye’s recent remarks discounting the sacrifice that millions of soldiers have made while fighting in wars on behalf of America across the globe.  During his morning show “Up With Chris Hayes”, he said,

Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word ‘hero’? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”

For family members of fallen soldiers, the comments could not have come at a more challenging time – during Memorial Day: a day reserved for remembering and honoring those who died defending America … and people like Hayes.

Ironically, Hayes also made the remarks on the same day that thousands of Rolling Thunder motorcyclists roared into town to parade and promote support for all our veterans, including missing soldiers and prisoners of war. Many Thunder members, themselves Vietnam vets,  recall being  greeted with people spitting in their faces and calling them all sorts of names because they disliked the Vietnam war . The group and its members are dedicated to ensuring sure no other soldier’s efforts fighting are ignored or disrespected.

President Obama mentioned this fact during his remarks at the annual ceremonial wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier yesterday.

“You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame.” Obama told the Vets present during the ceremony, “You have earned your place among the greatest generations.”

Yet, perhaps what Hayes could have channeled other than his snide, aloof I’m-better-and-smarter-than-you-pseudo-intellectual diatribe is something more than the super progressive or Libertarian disdain for war and – de facto – those who fight in them.  Discount the inability to separate the mission from the men and women who volunteer to carry them out.

Perhaps, Hayes was presenting a missing sense of patriotism from some, including minorities, low income individuals, the marginalized and disenfranchised, who harbor feelings of betrayal , likely disdain about the U.S.’s slave past and resentment over  not realizing the American dream.  Maybe they don’t think America has had their back and therefore won’t quickly have its back or look up to its soldiers of war. Not making excuses here. Just looking for answers.

In fact, in some circles of the most die-hard patriots, including some in middle America who are from working class backgrounds, there is underlying umbrage towards new immigrants and naturalized citizens.  They see dangling flags of the latter’s native land on their rearview mirrors and constant rooting against the U.S. during international games like the Olympics and World Cup.  There could be some dislike that these newer Americans  will never fully embrace America as their own, and never be Patriotic enough because even though they have escaped “harshness” of their land of the birth in search of the opportunities and freedoms America have to offer, their hearts remain back home.

In any event, the fuss that is being kicked up is providing some fuel to the GOP as it is ginning up its base.  There is no doubt there may be an effort to capitalize on Haye’s statements and use them as a condemnation of liberals and Democrats (and, of course, MSNBC), who they will say do not value military spending and support.

Since Republicans have all but usurped the concept of patriotism, that may be an easy sell.

Indeed, the move could be smart and especially if it is juxtaposed with existing and lingering sentiments among some conservatives and Republicans that President Obama is not American enough.  It can neatly fit into the narrative that Obama wants a European socialist America as Mitt Romney has said on the campaign trail, subscribes to a Kenyan Anti-Colonial World view as Newt Gingrich often remarked, pals around with terrorists as Sarah Palin has said and just like his wife, Michelle, who only “just recently” became proud of her country.

Hayes could have delivered the ultimate gimme.


  1. A "super progressive or libertarian disdain for war and… those who fight them"? SMH.

    Chris Hayes, trying to appear eloquent and relevant, picked the wrong time to make an awkward comment on politicians' trivialization of war. I guess like many pundits he felt the need to say something even in the absence of having something to say. Rational folks will see Hayes' comments for what they are — a faux pas — and move on.

    Then there are those for whom Hayes' words represent an opportunity for making themselves appear as… eloquent and relevant… but whose apparent social detachment and cynicism suggests otherwise. 'Hayes' Anti-Hero Memorial Day Rant Represented Frustrations of Poor Persons of Color and Immigrants'? Really, Jeneba? Chris Hayes is, "snide" and a "pseudo-intellectual", and your response is an even more ridiculous, snide, and psuedo-intellectual op-ed.

    Pot meet kettle.

  2. the hero thing is blowback from vietnam…and now we're over compensating….I see what he's trying to say…..I've been called a hero..don't feel like one..just did what I was suppose to do..what I agreed to do….

    to the military that word has a completely different meaning… chris was wrong be saying somehow a hero is someone specifically acknowledged for certain acts, when there are guys that do things every day with no recognition ………….

    when you talk to a serviceman, you don't know if that person really kicked ass and took names or just pushed papers for a year….u don't….(nothing against my admin brothers and sisters) ….it takes courage to go out there….trust that there are many too chicken-ish to even do that.

    We don't call ourselves hero's because we deployed and came back alive. don't even call those who got wounded, while doing dumb shit heroes. (real talk)

    this is a civilian matter the country has never faced before with it's lack of understanding/experience due to the lack of real sacrifice by the general public…..because if the sacrifice was even a third more than what it is…..this war would have been over years ago.

    Chris failed at what he tried to do…and in doing so, tried to take away the one connection a lot of people have with the war……calling someone a Hero is the most a majority are willing to contribute to the war…..and if there's one thing people love, it's the self gratification of feeling like they're doing much while accomplishing very little

  3. I agree the Chris Hayes put his foot in his mouth. I would have liked for him to have questioned the public's indiscriminate use of "Hero" to everybody that serves. Calling every person who serves in the military a "hero" cheapens the term. How do we define "hero" in this culture? Is it sufficient to deem someone a "hero" a person who puts on a military uniform? Are private contractors who work as mercenaries for the US in wars abroad "heroes?" Are family members of military service men and women "heroes" by proxy? Are American tax payers who fund US wars abroad "heroes?"