President Obama Sparks a National Conversation on Race After Trayvon Martin VerdictJuly 22, 2013 |
by Emil Guillermo
I have always called President Barack Obama the race avoider.
Sure, he’ll shoot hoops and coo Al Green to Michelle, but the man insists on staying above it all. He’s in control, taking the high road and avoiding what he sees as the obvious. Because as we all know, life should be all about the “content of our character,” right?
Like many successful people of color, Obama believes one can overcome race by driving ahead, ignoring it and concentrating on what truly matters.
In the past, he’s only addressed the subject of race when it is forced and cannot be ignored. We saw this when Rev. Jeremiah Wright became an issue in the first Obama campaign in 2008. Then, Obama addressed his connection to the reverend with his own searing speech in Philadelphia that seemed to satisfy, at least for the moment, any need to tackle race any further.
That’s because the goal was always about moving ahead, leaving race behind. We were entering the post-racial America. That’s where everyone wants to be because the truth is no one really wants to deal with race. Not liberals, conservatives, Black, White, Asian or Latino. No one.
It’s just easier to say, “See, a Black man is president. Equality? Done.”
But then came Obama’s blunt admission last week at that news conference.
I tweeted his quote, because to me it was such a crystal clear admission.
Obama: “Living in a post-racial society doesn’t mean racism is eliminated.”Has confidence that kids today help us be a “more perfect union.”
And all it took was the Zimmerman verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial to make the most powerful man in the world admit there is much work to be done.
It was more of a stunner to me than the more oft-quoted remark from the president that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
Maybe that’s because I know of the early stories of young Barry Obama being profiled in Hawaii. And I know it could have been him.
But that was in the past.
His admission that racism is not eliminated in such blunt terms is about the present.
The image of a Black man in the White House making that kind of admission should be considered an invitation for everyone to join in that elusive “national conversation” on race. We’ve been waiting a long time. What better moment to have it than now since the Zimmerman verdict has opened up a scabbed wound?
The higher ed community should no doubt have a role. Where else can communities have the kind of formal and informal forums that might give people a safe place to talk, relate and learn?
But we shouldn’t make the mistake of talking about policy solutions too quickly.
It’s too soon for that. We need to talk and understand one another, first. We should all wonder where we fit into the Trayvon Martin equation. Could it have been you? Or are you Zimmerman? It should be a conversation without judgment or argument. That will come in time when politics get involved. For the moment, we just need to hear each other.
And then maybe, once we do, we can find solutions together.
Emil Guillermo writes on race and other issues for the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.