After President Barack Obama unexpectedly showed up to a White House briefing on Friday to offer his thoughts on the George Zimmerman verdict, conservatives lashed back with comments about Obama’s being a race-baiter, a riot-inducer, someone trying to milk Trayvon Martin’s death to convince a guilty America to adopt stricter gun laws.
The reaction mostly was nothing out of the ordinary. I expect commentators to disagree – to boil the words down until only the residue remains.
However, a Twitter comment stuck out to me. It was from Fox News radio host Todd Starnes, who can have a biting way with words. President Obama today, Starnes tweeted, is being very unpresidential. I agree – but I bet I have different reasons.
If we’re reading Obama’s words in the light of the 43 presidents before him then, yes, Obama didn’t speak like his predecessors, who more often than not came from well-to-do families. He spoke as an African-American man who has a heritage that comes from the ugly side of U.S. history. His Kenyan relatives were not uprooted by slavery, but he knows of African ancestors who didn’t willingly sail to reach North America, whose names will never appear on an Ellis Island passenger search.
As a minority, you tend to have a hypersensitivity to race. You walk into a classroom or office and you glance to see how many people look like you. As a child, my mom didn’t like me to carry a toy inside a store because someone might think that I was stealing it. She still is aware when a salesperson follows far behind her.
While this country has made great strides since the days of slavery and segregation, the African-American community will always bear those scars. To hear some say that race didn’t matter in the Zimmerman case or that we live in a post-racial society almost feels dismissive – as if African-Americans should be over it by now.
Obama’s statement indicates the scars that pained him when he heard of Martin – it was far from politics; it was personal.
It’s not often my family sits down to watch TV together, but when we heard a verdict had been reached, we all seemed to drift into the living room together.
My dad turned to my 16-year-old brother afterward and said, That could have been you. He didn’t say it to scare him – he said it because there is a chance not all people will see my brother as a gentle soul who takes Advanced Placement classes and has never once been in trouble at school.
In legal terms, the justice system worked. Zimmerman had fair representation, and a jury of his peers found him not guilty. Justice may be blind, but it’s tough to think an African-American could have walked out of that courtroom an innocent man.