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

The Big Dog's back

From Mozambique.

PaulYall

Is Obama and trayvon from Africa?

deertracker

I think Obama does qualify though! His father was born in Africa! I think Trayvon was just a black American kid from the south!

The Big Dog's back

Obama's Kenyan right?

PaulYall

I like the term black, white, Hispanic American...because I sure as heck ain't a European American!

The Big Dog's back

Better check your bible.

PaulYall

I have no affiliation in my life with the eastern world!

huronguy

Make these black thugs serve in the military. It hurts to know blacks stand around crying about their own doing while the majority of the us military is white males losing their lives protecting this country while the black man is destroying it. Thanks for contributing nothing black people while the white man continues to pick up your slack.

deertracker

Thank you very much! You missed some slack there. Get that for me!

buckeye15

Wow, just wow huronguy. You must be so proud of yourself. Why don't you just go ahead and type the "N" word. We know you want to.

JudgeMeNot

I will use it, nincompoop. Quit acting like a nincompoop, because I know you are smarter than that.

The Big Dog's back

Well, no racism here.

The Good Doctor

You really are out of it. Black men and women serve in the military. Have you forgotten to take your meds today?

KnuckleDragger

Wrong!!! I served for 21 yrs in the military and was proud to be brothers at arms with these same black men and women. Never have I seen a more loyal, dedicated, hard-working group of people. I never met a black thug serving in the military.

looking around

Wow......you should have been in Vietnam in 1967, the majority of soldiers there were black or Hispanic.....the draft was still in place and they didn't enjoy the deferments many of the middle class white kids did. I ain't no senators son....

grandmasgirl

Personally, I am beginning to think race is a bigger issue than it was in the 60's. But the problem is that it is the black people who are still crying "foul". Zimmerman was found not guilty. Just like O.J. I'd like to know why everytime something happens that blacks don't like, they riot and march. It's like they don't want to live by the rules. And people are right. Obama should have stayed out of it and kept his mouth shut.

The Big Dog's back

Yep, why would he concern himself with a national issue? Take a look at this website and see what a problem we really have. Close to home too.
http://www.splcenter.org/get-inf...

deertracker

Yes of course grandma, our BLACK President should be seen and not heard, right? Who rioted about O.J.? We have no problem living by the rules except those that allow the killing of our kids.

laker1

No one knows how Obama went to college, what grades he received, and what classes he attended, and his sources of funding. All his records are sealed. What we do know is that in his autobiography, as a high school student, he spent it in a fog ( his words) using drugs of various kinds including blow when he could afford it. If he would have been caught with it he would have been convicted of a felony and surley would never had been a lawyer let alone current endeavers.

deertracker

Your point????????????

The Big Dog's back

Reagan was a drug dealer while President. bush 1 used cocaine. What is exactly your point laker?

gonezo77

The tell-tale sign of ignorance is the inability to have a sense of cultural relativism.

huronguy

buckeye. the black "african American" is way more racist than I could ever be Are you illiterate? read between the lines. Blacks are protesting this based on race.(read obama's statements above) They get to openly do this but let the white man do it and we are "racist" . Double standard. Blacks are the real racist face of America They just play the game and hide it better because they need the white man. How you think the government, businesses and housing function from day to day. If every white person died in America today The Blacks would have this country in ruins by weeks end. The reason is: they are to lazy and uneducated to do so and if we continue to cater to them any further nothing will change in the black community, they will sit about continuing to feel sorry for themselves. I'm just typing the obvious.

deertracker

Tell us how you really feel Jim Crow!

huronguy

hey big dog you think that's bad look at this link it has 2000 racist centers in america and still growing
http://www.naacp.org/pages/find-...

Mommy25

Maybe while everyone is wanting Justice for Trayvon, we may also ask for justice for Christopher Cervini.
http://www.theminorityreportblog...

deertracker

Good luck with that?

herbie_hancock

Yeah what was that about if the roles were reversed, I think your words were "the black guy would of been tried and fried by now" deertracker?

deertracker

ARE YOU SURE THAT WAS DEERTRACKER?

The Big Dog's back

Are you marching for justice mommy?

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