Discussing Trayvon Martin, Obama Embraces his Blackness

Discussing Trayvon Martin, Obama Embraces his Blackness

The American Prospect

Jamelle Bouie, Staff Writer

On Obama’s remarks this afternoon.

When President Obama issued a pro forma statement following last week’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial, there was some disappointment—“Why didn’t he say more?” It only takes a small step back to see the answer; not only would it have been inappropriate for the president to question the decision of the jury, but given wide outrage at the ruling, it could have inflamed passions on both sides.

But it isn’t out of bounds for Obama to speak on the meaning of Trayvon Martin, which he did this afternoon, during a White House press briefing. And unlike his earlier statement, this was a frank and heartfelt take on the racial issues surrounding the shooting and the trial.

Which, to be honest, came as a surprise. Barack Obama’s entire political career has been about de-racializing his personal identity. Yes, he was a black senator from Illinois, but for white audiences at least, he wasn’t a black one. It’s why the Jeremiah Wright controversy was so dangerous for his candidacy—it emphasized his blackness at a time when he was trying most to build a universal appeal…

…Obama gains nothing by identifying with his blackness, but in talking about Martin, he did exactly that. “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” said the president, “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” He continued, “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”…

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