Some Thoughts on President Obama’s Remarks on the Zimmerman/Martin Case

I’ll leave aside President Barack Obama’s segue into his hobby horses of gun violence, the role of government in self defense (which is, of necessity, first and foremost a personal matter), and how government should manage how we think about things.  I’ll just comment on his remarks about race and the Zimmerman acquittal.

The following excerpts what I believe to be the relevant parts of his speech [emphasis added] (the full transcript of which can be found here, via The Washington Post).

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.

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me, at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.

We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys?

…figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society[.]

Is this following, door locking, elevator nervousness, etc occurring at the same rate today that it was 35 years ago, with no improvement?  Locks, mechanically, are a whole lot quieter today than they were 35 years ago, and many (most?) cars today lock their doors as soon as they’re put into gear or start moving the first time; I have to wonder whether lock-clicking even is audible on today’s streets.  Regardless, is this behavior really occurring today unabated?  I’ve not seen any of this in the (very thoroughly integrated) stores, or elevators, or streets—or restaurants or any other public spaces—I frequent; although I certainly did see much of this 35 years ago.  But then, I’m just a pasty white guy….

Obama speaks of the inescapability of a history of 35 years and more ago.  He talks of the inescapability of a history of nearly two generations—and more—ago, as though today’s children still are trapped in the past of their grandfathers.  Yet, what’s also, if not more so, inescapable is that men also can bring to bear the fact of great improvement in relations over these 35 years.  It’s also inescapable that blacks can—and do—recognize that not every ruling—legal, economic, or otherwise—that goes against a black man or in favor of a white or Hispanic man must, perforce, have been a racial ruling and not an honest one.  For Obama to suggest otherwise is to demean the intelligence and maturity of the “black community.”  Indeed, adding to frustration levels on this matter is his, and his liberal confreres’, insistence on wallowing in that history (which roughly coincides with the last time Obama actually was in the world before entering the cloisters of legal academe and politics) as though it were the present, rather than moving forward.

No, the history of blacks and of black treatment is not the present.  Certainly there remains racism—but today is radically different from the general history of 35 years ago that Obama insinuates remains the present.  Yes, he did pay lip service to change with his stock phrases concerning progress made; he offered them as an afterthought at the end of his remarks.

Regardless of any of the foregoing, though, is the appropriate response to following, to door-locking, to nervous purse-clutching to attack the one behaving inappropriately, to “ground and pound” that one?  Is Obama suggesting that 35 years ago—or today—he could have been the one assaulting a man whose behavior offended him?

Then Obama asked that we think about how to bolster and reinforce African-American boys.  How about, instead, thinking about how to bolster and reinforce American boys?  And American girls?  (This, though, is not done by government involvement with our children, rather by government working to protect the economic and moral environment so as to let local communities bolster and reinforce families.)

Along these lines, on the subject of his last question quoted above: one way—the best way—to help “African-American men” feel they’re a full part of “this society” would be to stop holding them separate from society and to stop singling them out for special treatment (vis., “African-American men” instead of American men (who happen to be black), or making exceptions for them because of a history that is increasingly less related to the present, or affirmative action programs).  Let them actually be a full part of society.

Finally, what does our President see when he looks out over the audience at any of his speeches?  A sea of Americans, who happen to have a variety of ethnic heritages?  Or a collection of distinct ethnic identities who happen to have American citizenship?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *