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

JudgeMeNot

Are you pooch? No because you are here spreading your ignorance. Nincompoop.

huronguy

Here's big dog's link he put up. If you go through some of these states on here you'll see it includes black racist groups as well which includes quite a few Nation of Islam and Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, Black panther, New black panthers. Rainbow Coalition, Naacp and many more. These are Black separatist groups that hate white people. Yes! American Whites. Wake up they're tons of black racist groups here in America That Hate and wanna kill whitey. They don't get no bad media coverage or sensationalism or harassment by The U.S. Government so they stay quiet and continue to grow. No Racist callouts on this group No way. Blacks don't mention these "churches". Look up big dogs link and look at all the hateful racist black gangs in America. http://www.splcenter.org/get-inf...

The Big Dog's back

What's your point Jim Crow? That's why I put that link up because it contains all hate groups. Which one are you affiliated with?

deertracker

That's "yt" not whitey! Funnier!

Perkins2060

George Zimmerman

PaulYall

I wanna know..is. Barack Obama and Trayvon Martin from Africa???

deertracker

No!

buckeye15

huronguy is right. Racism in any form is wrong.

So who is with me on calling out huronguy's racism? J. Cooper? brassman? Toolbox? PaulYall? grumpy? Darwin's choice?....anybody?

I won't be holding my breath.

By the way, did anyone else enjoy the rich irony of huronguy linking to the Southern Poverty Law Center?

PaulYall

There's no doubt in my mind that huronguy is racist! But freedom of speech applies to every American!

buckeye15

So you call out blacks for racism but for white guys it is freedom of speech?

OK...I got it.

PaulYall

Re-read my remark! Then comment back! "Every American" not every white man's right! You sound like you wrote this article!

The Big Dog's back

I got that too buckeye of what paul said.

PaulYall

I didn't mix my words big dog!

deertracker

Some times the truth comes out. It's okay Paul!

gonezo77

Freedom of speech applies only to government action. Private actors can limit idiotic speech as much as they want.

grumpy

huron guy sure reads to be racist.

Mystery_Cheese

Why does this article feel racist to me? As though only black men have this special ability to feel ostracized. Apparently, according to some, only black men pause midsentence to 'check' themselves. This is ridiculous. People really don't want to let racism go, and realize that we all come from the same speck of stardust, and none of us are special because of the color of our skin.

There you go again

Thanks for stirring up racism in a non-racism verdict, Mr. Obama. Your speech should have been address to your fellow Chicagoans. Time to get back to your presidential issues-Benghazi, IRS, AP, Obamacare dislikes, balancing a budget, immigration, etc. Remember those problems? Well, they haven't gone away. Leave the court system alone and do your job.

The Big Dog's back

He is doing his job.

SamAdams

He is. If, that is, his job is deflecting attention from the issues that are actually important. You know, like the fact Obamacare is running off the rails already (I DID tell you so), Benghazi survivors had to sign non-disclosure agreements (WTH), the Middle East is more volatile than ever, our borders are sieves, the economy is STILL nowhere near where it should be, the State Department has got some VERY serious endemic issues...

Oh, but wait. None of those things I named are about Barack Obama being black! Guess we'll have to wait until he figures out a way to interject his ego into THOSE things before we see any constructive action! (I said "constructive," NOT "progressive" -- huge difference 99.9% of the time.)

The Big Dog's back

What? Step away from the computer.

deertracker

He spoke to Black America to let us know he feels our pain. No, it's not just the not guilty verdict, it's how systematically a group of people....black men.... have historically been mistreated. Obamacare has also caused insurance premiums to decrease by as much as 50 percent in 11 states so far. The law is helping people. Give it a rest about Benghazi. That is no longer even a talking point. We are NOT responsible for the Middle East! Our borders have never been as secure as they are and this President has increased border patrol and deportations to levels never seen previously. Those things are not about him being black either but a good leader DOING HIS JOB. That's what you wanted, right?

JudgeMeNot

Why did he not speak to white America?

Kool-Aid drinkers just want somebody that they can believe in who will do all the thinking for them.
Today’s most obvious Kool-Aid Drinkers are those who believe in the gospel of Obama. It’s startling sometimes to realize just how much self-delusion is necessary to make it possible to believe in someone as inept as Obama.

Again, why did he not speak to white America? Why are you constantly referring to them as black, then flipflop and call them African-americans?

deertracker

He spoke to blacks because a black kid was killed! White America was listening. All this Kool-Aid talk is making me thirsty! Semantics Judge, SEMANTICS! I prefer to be called by my name and referred to as a BLACK AMERICAN!

grumpy

A heck of a lot more black kids have been, and are are still being, killed in Chicago. If he wants to point a spotlight on what will help save, by far, more black children, bring that under a spotlight There he can use his special relationship with blacks to help save their children. Many times more black children are killed there than all the black children killed by Whites in the rest of the country. He wouldn't even have to limit to blacks killing black children in Chicago, he could make it Blacks killing black children anywhere in the US, since deertracker and piddle puppy don't like it when I bring up Chicago. That would help even more black children in the US.

That said he can speak on any subject he wishes to. But the flip side is that the people can also, as has been shown in some of the reactions shown here.

herbie_hancock

"These are not the droids your looking for"

deertracker

Your or you're? You decide!

herbie_hancock

Aww your one of the people that resort to pointing out typo's in grammar when you don't have anything else intelligent or true to say aren't you? If you spent as much time proof reading my comments as you did confirming yours ....

coasterfan

Nothing Obama said sounded remotely controversial to me. You could post a pic of him doing something as innocuous as eating ice cream, and the usual suspects here would be complaining about him "eating ice cream". God forbid if the ice cream were vanilla or chocolate; they would read something racial into it.

Dontcha just love when obviously racist conservatives gripe about racism in America?

Darwin's choice

Feel like someone just punched you in the stomach and knocked the wind out of you? That's just the reality of Obama-fail getting you!
Obama is simply stoking the fires of racial tension as a means of political strategy... because it's effective as it's based on emotions and not facts, it requires very little critical, intelligent analysis from his voting base, and because he can get away with it since the media runs around behind him fighting amongst themselves for the honor of kissing his azz rather than holding him accountable for his statements and actions.

Big Dog, maybe you'll feel it someday....

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