Friday, July 19, 2013

President Obama talked to White America as a Black man

Other than his "race speech" back in 2008, when President Obama has talked about issues facing the African American community, it has usually been to an audience of black people (ie, commencement address at Morehouse). As a result, a lot of African American intellectuals have criticized the fact that when he talks about race, he tends to focus on a call to responsibility and excellence in the face of racism.

Today was different. Barack Hussein Obama was talking as a black man to white America in an attempt to help us understand the pain the African American community is dealing with in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict. And in doing so, he made it personal.
But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that -- that doesn’t go away.
He then went on to provide that context that comes from both the history of African Americans in this country and the present experiences of black men just like himself. President Obama knows the pain the African American community is feeling over this incident - because he feels it himself. He wanted us to have the chance to hear why.

After talking about some things we need to do to improve things, he ended with a challenge to us. least ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
I know that a lot of white people won't be able to hear what he said or take up that challenge. But I sure hope that some of us will. Regardless, this country has now experienced its first racial crisis with an African American in the White House. He spoke to us as as that man today. I am SO grateful to be living in this moment and so amazingly proud of our President!


  1. Ok let's start right now.

    I'm a thirty something white guy that lives in the suburbs of Chicago. I know that I received opportunities and benefits of the doubt just because of my race and my gender. I don't think it's fair but I can only truly control my own behavior. I try to ring out the biases in my own thinking and decision making.

    I also know that I still have biased thoughts and say stupid racist things occasionally. I try to correct myself as soon as it happens and I get better each time it happens.

    I think it's part of the American culture and the more people acknowledge that they have the same issue from time to time and talk about fixing it we may find a way to move past it as a country.

  2. What do you think about him suggesting that NYPD Commissioner Kelly is very well qualified to be head of DHS? Kelly's presided over some of the most oppressive and racist forms of racial profiling and spying on communities of color.

    I hope he wasn't serious.

    1. I think he was just being polite when answering a direct question.

  3. I know that a lot of white people won't be able to hear what he said or take up that challenge. But I sure hope that some of us will.

    it is hard to have a dialogue about race and racism in the abstract...but we can tackle the problem by tackling the policies that continue to reinforce gutting of the VRA...lack of educational opportunities....Stop and Frisk....the un-equalness of the Criminal Justice name a few...

    I saw this statement in a tweet yesterday....Racism is not a natural human phenomenon. It was developed by those in power to keep the socioeconomic power structure intact.

    but as someone pointed out to me...racism has become a deeply embedded belief system......and there is policy that supports and reinforces that belief system...

    but what I also know is that when people work together on common issues of concern.... barriers can be is my Hope that as we work together, we can begin to have the conversations that PBO spoke of...

    1. On the personal (as opposed to policy) level, President Obama called for introspection rather than a conversation. That's why I included that last quote from the speech.

      On a policy level, he's scaling back the war on drugs and yesterday called for a re-thinking of things like "stand your ground" laws. Eric Holder has made voting rights enforcement a top priority. But a lot of the policy issues are state/local issues.

    2. yes...PBO calls for soul searching...I do not think that this will happen in the abstract.

      as for the state/local issues...elections have consequences...once again proving that all politics are local...we have to take up the mantle of community organizing...

  4. "Eric Holder has made voting rights enforcement a top priority. But a lot of the policy issues are state/local issues."
    Could this be why the SC took aim at VRA because it has been a priority for Atty Gen Holder?!!