Obama the black man

President bares his self in passionate speech
Associated Press
Jul 21, 2013

Something in President Barack Obama's voice caught Gregory C. Ellison's ear. It was fleeting, subtle, and easy to miss — unless you're a black man, too.

"In between his personal reflections on what it feels like to be an African-American man, and the history of pain and his strategic plan, there was what I call a very pregnant pause," says Ellison, a theology professor in Atlanta.

"If I ever have an opportunity to talk to President Obama, I would ask him what was he searching in his soul during that pregnant pause?"

Obama was wrapped in presidential authority Friday as he talked to a nation rubbed emotionally raw in the week since the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was acquitted in a Florida courtroom.

Then, in a move hardly anyone saw coming, Obama unwrapped himself, and put his own young, black face on Martin's dead, young, black body.

This first black president, the guy accused by some of running from his blackness, of trying to address black folks' needs on the down low, suddenly lifted the veil off his black male identity and showed it to the world. It was something no American president before him could have done.

He had to do it, Obama said, because "Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago."

And also because America needs to understand why so many of her citizens are in pain about Martin's death, and why black citizens, especially, are having a hard time looking at this as anything other than the latest manifestation of what Obama called "a history that doesn't go away."

All over the United States, millions of black men could painfully identify with what Obama said as he spoke about what he called their shared reality. Of being followed in department stores. Of hearing the "click" of car door locks as they walk by. Of women holding their purses close while standing next to them in elevators. Of police — or anybody, really — believing them to be criminals without knowing what's truly inside their heads or their hearts.

"That includes me," Obama said.

Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, thanked Obama for identifying with their son in such a personal way, and encouraging them as they work to turn their grief into a public "conduit" for racial healing.

"This is a beautiful tribute to our boy," they said.

Greg Carr, chairman of the Afro-American Studies department at Howard University in Washington, said the president "has an authenticity, because he does signal to the black community that he too has experienced what we experienced."

At the same time, Carr said, Obama danced with risk, daring to speculate on whether Martin, too, could have claimed self-defense under Florida's stand-your-ground law, which was often cited as grounds for George Zimmerman to fire the shot that killed the unarmed teenager in February 2012.

Obama asked the nation to search its soul about this. He invoked his "convening power" as president to bring people together to sort out ways to help young black men "feel that they're a full part of this society." He made clear he doesn't want a national dialogue on race that is steered by politicians because "I haven't seen that be particularly productive."

"I thought it was very wise of him," said Sterling Speirn, president and CEO of the Kellogg Foundation, one of 26 private philanthropies that agreed in April to work together on addressing the needs of young men of color.

"You can't just come out and pass laws and have a new initiative. ... It's not an abstract issue anymore, and perhaps this is the best way the president can lead the way," he said.

Obama's candor came just before "Justice for Trayvon" vigils and rallies scheduled Saturday in 100 cities. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, organizer of the demonstrations, said the fact that Obama weighed in about stand-your-ground laws, the focus of those demonstrations, will help "set a tone for both direct action, and needed dialogue," while the Justice Department considers whether to pursue civil rights violations in Martin's death.

White House aides said the president had quietly digested the public's reactions, especially those of African-Americans, since a six-member jury acquitted Zimmerman last Saturday. He had conversations with his family and friends, both inside and outside the White House.

He told senior advisers Thursday that he felt it was important for the country to hear from him on the subject in a broad yet much more personal context, beyond the statement he issued shortly after the verdict.

When he appeared in the White House briefing room Friday afternoon, he had no prepared text, no teleprompter. All he seemed to rely upon was his skin and the experiences he's had inside it.

Ellison, an assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, said what Obama laid out was what it feels like to be "cut dead," a 19th century slang term meaning to be snubbed on purpose, or completely ignored.

This is where Ellison's head was as he listened to Obama's speech, and felt that the president appeared to check himself midway through — something black men tend to do, Ellison said, when they find themselves heading into an emotional place on racial matters. In that moment, Ellison sensed, Obama's black man sensibilities may have led him to think, "I am the president of the free world, I can't go there."

"Something happened in that pause," Ellison said. "And how many African-American men have to take that pause on a daily basis, you know?"

___

Ross is The Associated Press' Race and Ethnicity editor. AP writer Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this report.

 

Comments

deertracker

That's right, he tried dog meat too. How prestigious?

PaulYall

He can talk all he wants..he will use the race card like every black American till the day they die! Give them the highest job and authority in the world and still says he is being kicked down because he's black!!! WORTHLESS PIECE OF CRAP HE IS!

deertracker

Ever tried to get a cab in Manhattan? I think he was elected...TWICE.... he was not given anything!

The Big Dog's back

"Give them"?

coasterfan

I'll take 100 Obama's over 1 PaulYall any day of the week. One is educated, articulate, and a former Constitutional Law Professor, while the other peddles hate and ignorance.

JudgeMeNot

Kinda like you peddling hate and ignorance. Maybe you are the one who needs an education.

Senior Lecturer does not make one a Professor. Please get an education.

Nor'easter

He claims knowledge, yet he fails to follow the Constitution! If the Senate was not under Democratic control, he would have been impeached for treason a long time ago. According to the Congressional hearings last week, his friend Rev Wright is behind the White House IRS scandal. Sad state of affairs.

Tool Box

Obama should be impeached for his racist comments!

deertracker

It's painfully obvious you are not the sharpest tool in the box!

herbie_hancock

says the guy that post a study with fudged numbers to further his argument.

deertracker

Are you the black herbie hancock? Jus wonderin'!

Tool Box

I'm not but my butt hole is!

SamAdams

Racism isn't a crime, impeachable or otherwise. Is Obama racist? Obviously. Is he fomenting as much racial strife as he possibly can? Oh, yeah. But those things aren't crimes, either.

If you're going to tell us how awful Obama is, and if you're going to suggest he be criminally charged with something (or several things) he's done, please at least make your point with an example that's actually illegal! This just makes you sound a whole lot like one of Big Dog's infamous crazy right wingers!

coasterfan

Good point, Sam, except for one thing. The amount of hate and vitriol coming from the Right is way over the top, as compared to those on Obama's side, If you disagree, I invite you to read the above posted comments.

herbie_hancock

I don't think you really want to play the "group people together because of a few degenerates game".

KnuckleDragger

This isn't just the right. I read many a lefty forum, and he is even starting to wear thin with many on the left over his race baiting.

PaulYall

Only reason why he is president is because America didn't want a woman to be president. period!

4shizzle

Hillary 2016 !!!

deertracker

She's got my vote.

herbie_hancock

Sure the campaign slogan can be "What difference does it make

S w Rand 2016

Hillary for President?....maybe of the World Bank. She doesn't want the U.S. Presidency anymore. She is on to bigger and better things (at least in her mind, I suspect).

http://www.reuters.com/article/2...

Sorry about your luck : P The electoral college would've overridden the popular vote and installed Senator Rand Paul as President, anyway : P That's what I think.

I leave you with a relatively esoteric comment: Some people just don't understand what America is about. I doubt it came this far to do a 180, yo.

The Big Dog's back

So you are OK with Hillary paul? Good, vote for her in 2016.

KnuckleDragger

She has already said she isn't running in 2016. The Dems are gonna run babbling Joe.

coasterfan

No, the reason he is Prez is because a majority of Americans twice rejected the GOP platform, along with the GOP candidate?

deertracker

TWICE!!!!!!!!!!!!

S w Rand 2016

I don't think most people even know what the GOP platform is. When you have so many media pundits and opinion bloggers cherry-picking some rogue members and quoting them from the rooftops at every corner, the average American, tired from work, is not likely to even know what it's really about. Especially when the Left's party leaders think that, if they continue to shout over the GOP with every lie and half-truth they can conjure, people will believe it long enough for them to get what they want.

PaulYall

Besides..you can't be African-American unless you were born there! Either your African or your an American..which is it? Unless you have a duel citizenship? I'm not a. French American! What he is, is anti- American!

deertracker

White America gave him that term. Theresa Heinz Kerry is African American.

PaulYall

Is she from Africa?

The Big Dog's back

Yes.

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