President Obama made an unscheduled appearance at the White House daily briefing today to deliver some remarks on Trayvon Martin and the state of race relations in the United States today.
Speaking without notes, the President spoke directly to the question of the role the Stand Your Ground laws played in Florida, but with his own personal history at the fore. After remarking that he could just as easily have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, he said that “a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush.”
Aside: The President has been racially profiled since the day he took office, so it’s not as if things have changed all that much.
The President went on to say that if “a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, both the outcome and the aftermath would have been different.”
While these are thoughts echoed by many over the past several days, I am impressed that President Obama took the time and some considerable risk in being as forthright as he was. By risk, I mean that he directly confronted the racial tropes behind the Stand Your Ground laws and acknowledged that racial profiling still happens, and that young African-American boys need this country to open pathways to success.
In a legislative environment where conservative lawmakers are actively engaged in consigning young black boys to prison and worse, and where implicit racism is in the header of every piece of legislation they’re passing, these were important remarks. They were also incendiary to the right, of course.
Within seconds of his remarks, predictable and ugly comments began to appear on Twitter, and not just from nameless trolls, either.
Like this one:
Obama goes full race war: In putting shooting “in context”,it’s all about how “black folks” see it, not how whites or assault victims see it
— Patrick Dollard (@PatDollard) July 19, 2013
This tweet from Jesse LaGreca more or less summarizes right-wing fauxtrage:
The meme on the right is that blacks are the real racists and so is Obama. So the entire right of America politics is now Glenn Beck of 2011
— Jesse LaGreca (@JesseLaGreca) July 19, 2013
I’d rather focus on what I saw from the African-American community on Twitter, because it was far more positive.
Do y’all get the significance of what we just saw/heard from #POTUS? The President of the US acknowledging the plight of young black men?
— Trymaine Lee (@trymainelee) July 19, 2013
That it is this moving to see a president merely argue for your humanity in such a nuanced way shows what we’re lacking. More, please.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) July 19, 2013
For all of the social media sound and fury over what were heartfelt and truthful remarks about the Zimmerman verdict, this was a moment that has historical importance, just like it did when he spoke of Trayvon Martin just over a year ago. When the President of the United States likens himself to Trayvon Martin yet still stands as the President, there is a powerful message of overcoming for all to see. It might drive the right wing crazy, but it should also offer hope to this generation of young black men (and women) who struggle against unfair and arbitrary discrimination at the hands of people who hate them merely because their skin is dark.
Bravo, Mr. President. This is leadership.