Hello Everyone,

On the heels of the killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, I found the unscripted and highly personal comments offered by President Obama last Friday to be pitch perfect.

Profiling

Coincidentally, my last commentary focused on what has been characterized as “political profiling” at the IRS. The racial profiling which is the centerpiece of the Martin/Zimmerman case is much more insidious and has been with us much longer.

The President has encouraged us citizens to continue our conversation about race. So, I’d like to add my small voice to it. It is something I think about literally every day as I go about the work I do with students on Chicago’s South Side and here in Evanston.

First, as always, I think it is useful to read the entirety of the President’s remarks, not just listen to snippets of them (see Attachment). For starters, they remind me of why I twice supported his election. As I have written repeatedly since before his first election, I am drawn to him because of his “intellect, temperament and worldview”. These qualities were once again vividly on display last week.

Make No Sudden Moves

On Friday night, Mark Shields said: “This was completely personal…and totally presidential at the same time.” That reminded me of Barack Obama’s profound revelation in Dreams from My Father. I wrote about it in 2008 in #35 and again in the early days of the Martin/Zimmerman tragedy in March of last year in #66:

It was the start of my senior year in high school…I told [my mother] not to worry, I wouldn’t do anything stupid. It was usually an effective tactic, another one of the tricks I had learned: people were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved to find a well-mannered young black man…

As David Brooks said last Friday about the President’s comments earlier that day:

I thought it was great…It was what the president was elected to be in 2008. It was the guy who sees a lot of conflict in the country, a lot of different points of view, and is able to corral them all…And so he explained the context [and] the way a lot of African-Americans are responding to it…He brought it all together in one unified package…He was restrained, he was responsible…He pointed some way down the road. And so I thought it was unifying. And when we think about Obama at his best, I think this is the sort of thing we think about…

The President said this about “context” earlier in the day:

…the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away… They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history…so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.

Jim Crow and the Great Migration

It may be coincidental that the “One Book, One Chicago” selection this year is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Penny and I are currently reading it. It provides some of the context of which the President spoke.

It reminds us of the dehumanizing cruelty and extreme violence of what Wilkerson calls the American South’s Jim Crow caste system perpetrated for eighty years following the Civil War. It only ended in the 1960’s, when Penny and I were in our twenties and shortly after Barack Obama’s birth. Wilkerson writes:

Over the course of six decades, some six million black southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence in nearly every other corner of America. The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the social and political order of every city it touched. It would force the South to search its soul and finally to lay aside a feudal caste system. It grew out of the unmet promises made after the Civil War and, through the sheer weight of it, helped push the country toward the civil rights revolutions of the 1960s.

The people did not cross the turnstiles of customs at Ellis Island. They were already citizens. But where they came from, they were not treated as such. Their every step was controlled by the meticulous laws of Jim Crow, a nineteenth-century minstrel figure that would become shorthand for the violently enforced codes of the southern caste system…

We commend to you this highly readable narrative about the travails of three southern “colored people” who migrated to northern cities in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, respectively. It provides the kind of context which the President has argued is essential to understanding the Trayvon Martin killing and its aftermath.

It also helps us to more fully understand the larger context in which the Obama presidency itself is situated.

Finally, in our continuing conversations about race, the President’s words last week rung true to me:

…ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

Please, as always, pass it on. And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com

Hello Everyone,

On the heels of the killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, I found the unscripted and highly personal comments offered by President Obama last Friday to be pitch perfect.

Profiling

Coincidentally, my last commentary focused on what has been characterized as “political profiling” at the IRS. The racial profiling which is the centerpiece of the Martin/Zimmerman case is much more insidious and has been with us much longer.

The President has encouraged us citizens to continue our conversation about race. So, I’d like to add my small voice to it. It is something I think about literally every day as I go about the work I do with students on Chicago’s South Side and here in Evanston.

First, as always, I think it is useful to read the entirety of the President’s remarks, not just listen to snippets of them (see Attachment). For starters, they remind me of why I twice supported his election. As I have written repeatedly since before his first election, I am drawn to him because of his “intellect, temperament and worldview”. These qualities were once again vividly on display last week.

Make No Sudden Moves

On Friday night, Mark Shields said: “This was completely personal…and totally presidential at the same time.” That reminded me of Barack Obama’s profound revelation in Dreams from My Father. I wrote about it in 2008 in #35 and again in the early days of the Martin/Zimmerman tragedy in March of last year in #66:

It was the start of my senior year in high school…I told [my mother] not to worry, I wouldn’t do anything stupid. It was usually an effective tactic, another one of the tricks I had learned: people were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved to find a well-mannered young black man…

As David Brooks said last Friday about the President’s comments earlier that day:

I thought it was great…It was what the president was elected to be in 2008. It was the guy who sees a lot of conflict in the country, a lot of different points of view, and is able to corral them all…And so he explained the context [and] the way a lot of African-Americans are responding to it…He brought it all together in one unified package…He was restrained, he was responsible…He pointed some way down the road. And so I thought it was unifying. And when we think about Obama at his best, I think this is the sort of thing we think about…

The President said this about “context” earlier in the day:

…the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away… They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history…so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.

Jim Crow and the Great Migration

It may be coincidental that the “One Book, One Chicago” selection this year is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Penny and I are currently reading it. It provides some of the context of which the President spoke.

It reminds us of the dehumanizing cruelty and extreme violence of what Wilkerson calls the American South’s Jim Crow caste system perpetrated for eighty years following the Civil War. It only ended in the 1960’s, when Penny and I were in our twenties and shortly after Barack Obama’s birth. Wilkerson writes:

Over the course of six decades, some six million black southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence in nearly every other corner of America. The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the social and political order of every city it touched. It would force the South to search its soul and finally to lay aside a feudal caste system. It grew out of the unmet promises made after the Civil War and, through the sheer weight of it, helped push the country toward the civil rights revolutions of the 1960s.

The people did not cross the turnstiles of customs at Ellis Island. They were already citizens. But where they came from, they were not treated as such. Their every step was controlled by the meticulous laws of Jim Crow, a nineteenth-century minstrel figure that would become shorthand for the violently enforced codes of the southern caste system…

We commend to you this highly readable narrative about the travails of three southern “colored people” who migrated to northern cities in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, respectively. It provides the kind of context which the President has argued is essential to understanding the Trayvon Martin killing and its aftermath.

It also helps us to more fully understand the larger context in which the Obama presidency itself is situated.

Finally, in our continuing conversations about race, the President’s words last week rung true to me:

…ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

Please, as always, pass it on. And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com

 

adobe pdf fileAttachment – Remarks on Trayvon Martin 7-19-13

 

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