And why shouldn’t the president talk honestly about race to the American people? Why shouldn’t Obama, as a black man, share his thoughts about the black male experience in America?
Obama’s remarks on race couldn’t have come at a more critical time – six days after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, a black unarmed teenager who Zimmerman followed and shot to death because Zimmerman thought the 17-year-old looked suspicious. Since the shooting, white and black Americans have been sharply divided and many African Americans urged Obama to speak out.
Last week, Eugene Robinson, a black columnist for The Washington Post, wrote that Obama is not the right person to lead a national conversation on race.
“President Obama is not the best person to lead the discussion. Through no fault of his own, he might be the worst,” Robinson wrote before Obama made his comments about race.
I disagree – and I would also argue that Obama is already not-so-subtly leading a much-needed conversation about race—a conversation that Americans are engaged in right now while sitting in living rooms, offices, churches, barber shops and beauty salons all across America.
Meanwhile, Obama’s right-wing critics are claiming that he’s dividing blacks and whites by taking America in the wrong direction. And talk show host Tavis Smiley, a frequent critic of Obama, called the president’s remarks “weak as pre-sweetened Kool Aid” and accused Obama of shrinking from his moral responsibilities.
We’ll look back on Obama’s extraordinary White House testimony as a defining moment in his presidency, an unprecedented come-to-Jesus moment where Obama spoke to the nation as a proud black man who stands in solidarity with other black men who have felt the sting of racism.
This may become one of those profound moments in American history where years from now black grandsons may ask their grandfathers this moving question: “Where were you when President Obama reminded America that he was a black man?”