Since last week’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, many African Americans have waited to hear President Obama deliver a more definitive statement to express, explain and engage conversation about the sad, stunning and shocking verdict for many persons who supported justice for Trayvon Martin. And on Friday, July 19, President Obama delivered a heartfelt expression with the right touch for what many blacks feel about the verdict. It was not a statement coming from a former law professor but one coming from a black man who has felt his own racial sting of being a black man and being profiled like Trayvon Martin. His speech was said without a teleprompter, advance notice and mostly done without notes.
President Obama began by saying… “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 doesn’t go away.”
For me as an African American woman, having the President address the issues entwined and entangled in the Trayvon Martin case gave some solace that as a President, he feels the collective pain of African Americans and wanted to address it. And more importantly, he knows the system is rigged against many blacks for many reasons. He addressed the fact that blacks are not walking around with blinders on and failing to see black on black crime. But presumably, he did that more for the hearing of well-meaning or conservative whites who, through social media, bring up that issue in the context of Trayvon Martin. President Obama addressed the inequities of race in America and tried to soothe blacks’ collective pain. He gave hope by affirming that America has come a long way but he stated we must do better. And he reiterated, we will learn lessons from Trayvon’s case and move in a positive direction to address them.
I scoured Twitter for comments on the speech. And as expected, they were all over the board. Most African Americans felt President Obama did a good job of expressing the collective frustration of a people who despite whatever heights are reached, blacks are always reminded in moments like the Zimmerman verdict, that America’s justice system does not always bend in our direction, from racial profiling, death penalty disparity and crack cocaine sentencing disparity to a not guilty verdict for the shooting death of an innocent teen walking home. I know that race issues are a dialog that we, as a country, need and must have. But, yesterday’s speech was a recognition and a beginning dialog from the President of these United States, that blacks are not equal in the eyes of many Americans and the criminal justice system.
Hearing the President personalize the statements made it all the more genuine. And even in those genuine moments, there were online comments from some who felt that President Obama did not understand the black experience because he attended private school and was raised by a white mother. To those who feel that way, that’s all the more reasons that we need to dialog on race. African Americans and particularly black men, regardless of their status in life, know that race matters in America. And in an earlier article, “Travon Martins are Everywhere”, I wrote about the racial profiling issues affecting actor Forest Whitaker, Harvard Professor Louis “Skip” Gates, former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele and my brother. Too bad, white men cannot walk in the shoes and skin of a black man for one day. They would learn that racial profiling is not just a fantasy. It’s a reality for all black men, at some time in their life, including President Barack Obama.
Thank you President Obama for addressing what needed to be said, in light of the Trayvon Martin case and verdict.