Monday, July 22, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 25 -- "Obama Steps Up"

On Week 25 of his second term, President Obama spoke to the nation as a black man living in America. Reminiscent of the speech he gave on race during his first campaign, this 'impromptu' and unexpected talk before an afternoon press briefing surprised even the reporters who were gathered. They did not expect to see him, and neither did we. So glad he showed up.

NPR's "Obama Explains Black America To White America," sums it up best:
The president did something no other holder of his office has ever had the life experience to do: He used the bully pulpit to, as an African-American, explain black America to white America in the wake of last week's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
Appearing unannounced before surprised reporters who were expecting the White House press secretary, it was Obama — "the bridge" as New Yorker editor David Remnick has called him — trying to span a divide. It was Obama trying to help white Americans comprehend black America's reaction to the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy.

The President confirmed what we all know. As an American of African-descent he has experienced racism and profiling. He spoke of instances before he was President, however, many in the black community believe the vitriol and disrespect shown him as President is also tainted by racism.

For goodness sake, he HAD TO SHOW HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE to quiet the rantings of fools who never should have been taken seriously! He WAS CALLED A LIAR from the House floor while giving a state-of-the-union-address! You had parents in an uproar because he wanted to address students at the beginning of a school year and encourage them to succeed!

But more ominously, you have a group of Republicans in the House who oppose EVERYTHING he puts forward (even if they were once for it) and who go to great lengths to keep the President from succeeding.

Politics as usual? No.

The recent New York Magazine piece "Anarchists of the House" describes this rampant dysfunction. among House Republicans. The subtitle says: "The Republican Congress is testing a new frontier of radicalism—governmental sabotage." In describing GOP strategy at the beginning of the president's first term:
"If some of them supported Obama’s proposals, they would only help the proposals seem more sensible. “It was absolutely critical that everybody be together,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell later said, “because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is okay.”
And so the Republican strategy during Obama’s first two years was almost total gridlock. Republican leaders aggressively pressured their members to withdraw support for any major Obama initiative, even denouncing ideas they themselves had previously endorsed."

It would be naive to think this anti-Obamanism does not have at least some racial undertones. As do the cartoons and caricatures of the President displayed in conservative-leaning papers across the country.

A large part of the response to President Obama probably has to do with fear of the diverse coalition that elected him.  America is changing. We now live in a multi-ethnic society. Many of us have family members who are of a different race. Census figures show a younger, more diverse nation in the years ahead. These Americans will demand a 'seat at the table'...and the right to walk home without being followed and attacked.

So with this backdrop, the President personalized the plight of black men in this country without castigating the system that gave us the verdict. He simply described the real world -- reminding us who we are and how we got here. Illustrating that even though he has reached the highest office in the land, he understands from personal experience the legacy of discrimination.

Here is the transcript of his speech.  Here is the video:

Touré did a fine job of explaining the risks the President took with the speech in a Time mag op-ed entitled: The Bravery of Obama’s Trayvon Speech, saying:
"It was a treacherous speech politically because for one part of the divide the answer to black pain is: get over it, as Representative Andy Harris recently said. Racism is in the past, white privilege is a myth, profiling is a ghost: Doesn’t Obama’s election prove we’re beyond all that? The President knows better. He asked, in his 19-minute address, that black pain be acknowledged, that internalized bias be taken seriously, that history be understood as not done with us yet."

The President, who was raised by a white mom and white grandparents, understands our differences and the need to 'explain' us to each other. In addition, he continues his quest to unite us. He did so with this recent speech, as with his first speech on race, "A More Perfect Union" in 2008, in which he stated:
"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one."

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