How President Obama 'Showed His Brother Card'
(Click here for updates we added after this post was published.)
Among the many commentaries after President Obama's personal remarks Friday about the prejudices that African-American men still deal with and the emotions that the Travyon Martin case has raised, there's this from Radio One Detroit host Angelo Henderson on All Things Considered:
"He showed his brother card. He talked about being an African-American, [about] being racially profiled as a kid. ... He connected with so many African-American men who have been in those same situations. ... He revealed that, yes, he's part of this community."
We'll add the broadcast version of his conversation with NPR's Audie Cornish to the top of this post later.
We're also watching for more commentaries.
At the National Journal, Jill Lawrence (who this blogger worked with for many years at USA Today), writes:
"Though his apparently unscripted comments in the White House press briefing room drew scorn and even accusations of racism from some on the right, he was right to try to lay out a constructive, non-political path forward. It would have been a missed opportunity – a huge missed opportunity – if America had not heard firsthand from its first black president at a moment like this."
But Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary during President George W. Bush's time in office, asks "why did it take the Trayvon Martin case for the president to come out and raise some of these very valid issues that it would be constructive for our nation to talk about in a unified fashion?"
8:15 p.m. ET. Obama "Set The Right Tone," Says National Urban League President:
"I think he set the right tone and had the right message and helped the country take a step towards a better understand of why there is such outrage," National Urban League President Marc Morial tells NPR's Brakkton Booker. "My own hope is the statement today is not only the beginning of a conversation but actual steps to confront the great challenges that we face as a nation."
To those who argue the president should not say there's a need for a national conversation about race (he made the case it shouldn't be led by politicians but "in families and churches and workplaces") — Morial rejects "a chorus that would suggest we all just ignore the elephant in the room. ... That's the height of irresponsibility. It doesn't acknowledge something that is very real that people talk about privately all the time — that's been part of kitchen table, boardroom, street corner conversation since this verdict came down."
8 p.m. ET. A "Bridge To Whites" Or Signal There Won't Be A Federal Case?
NPR's Frank James writes on It's All Politics that Obama's "African-Americaness ... allowed him to speak so personally and honestly about the Martin-Zimmerman case and to be the bridge to whites that might help them better understand what so many blacks have been experiencing."
Paul Mirengoff, on the conservative Power Line blog, thinks that "Obama's personalized and other musings about race in the first part of his talk were designed in part to make walking away from federal prosecution of Zimmerman more palatable to blacks. By convincing African-Americans that he really is a black president, he positions himself to receive less blowback for not persecuting Zimmerman to the max."
7:55 p.m. ET. Praise And Criticism.
-- From columnist Charles Krauthammer on Fox News' Special Report: Obama gave "a political speech addressed to his constituency on the left, which I thought was unfortunate. ... Look, I gave him and [Attorney Gen. Eric] Holder credit all week for trying to de-racialize the issue. And what Obama did, I think, unfortunately, today is to reracialize it."
-- From the editorial board of The New York Times: "President Obama did something today that he hardly ever does — and no other president could ever have done. He addressed the racial fault lines in the country by laying bare his personal anguish and experience in an effort to help white Americans understand why African Americans reacted with frustration and anger to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin. ... It is a great thing for this country to have a president who could do what Mr. Obama did today. It is sad that we still need him to do it."
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
President Obama made an unexpected and remarkable appearance today at the daily White House press briefing. He said he wanted to speak about the killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of the man who shot him to death, George Zimmerman. Obama noted that he commented briefly after the verdict this past weekend, but he added, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why - in the African-American community at least - there's a lot of pain around what happened here. I think it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.
CORNISH: The president proceeded to talk for nearly 17 minutes, speaking broadly about law enforcement, race and the African-American experience. Reaction is starting to roll in. Angelo Henderson speaks about things like this every day as host of "Your Voice with Angelo Henderson," a daily program on Radio One Detroit. He joins us now from our member station, WDET. Welcome, Angelo.
ANGELO HENDERSON: Thank you very much.
CORNISH: So your initial reaction to the president's words?
HENDERSON: Wow. We've been cheering, and the community here has really been supportive of President Barack Obama being the first African-American president. But today, he showed his colors. He showed that he was truly part of the African-American community, and I think so many people have been waiting for him to unveil that part of himself and to be free to do so.
Pretty much he's been held to almost like a colorlessness because he's the president of the United States, not the president of black America per se, but there were certain expectations that I think the community had. And Trayvon Martin is really one of those where people were saying, please, say something, do something, because I think, largely, the African-American community wants him to succeed, and they want a connecting point.
CORNISH: But was there a sense that Obama had been missing in action on this issue and that people were waiting for a statement?
HENDERSON: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, you know? But people also give him the benefit of the doubt to say, you know, that I'm sure he is going to say something, and it just - and people have just been waiting. But I think, today, he showed his brother card, you know? He talked about being African-American, being racially profiled as a kid, walking around the store, having people follow him.
He connected with locks being clicked on doors when he's been walking past a vehicle or a woman clutching her purse when he's in the elevator. He connected with so many African-American men who have been in those same situations.
CORNISH: Critics of the president's handling of these issues have often accused him of fanning the flames, making things worse or being divisive.
HENDERSON: Well, I think that he showed his context, and I think that it's important. Today, having a black president made a difference because he could speak from a context and a content that is not like any other on what's...
CORNISH: And interestingly enough, when he starts, he says, you know, he says, I just want to talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. It sounds as though he's being a translator of this experience.
HENDERSON: Oh, without a doubt he is, without a doubt. He is explaining to America, you know, why this Trayvon Martin verdict has been so painful and still right now. People are unsettled and uncomfortable with what happened and still unsure about how to respond.
CORNISH: And he essentially doubles down on a comment that he had been criticized for. You know, last year, he said, you know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon, and today he went very much farther than that, right?
HENDERSON: Oh, without a doubt. And I think that, in some cases, he has been forced to try to ignore color, just stay in the middle ground. But when he said that 35 years ago that he could be Trayvon, that is such a powerful image. He also said, which I thought was really strong, where he talks about had Trayvon been older and had a gun, would he have been able to come under the same kind of review? Would justice have looked at him the same way?
CORNISH: And he goes on, actually, later on to question Stand Your Ground laws and say that it might be time that people might want to examine these kinds of laws.
OBAMA: And for those who resist that idea, that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
HENDERSON: I mean, that - once again, that's the question that a lot of people are asking. And not to mention his other point about spending some time thinking about how to bolster and reinforce African-American voice. To hear the president say that, you know, that he's not sure whether it's a federal program, but we've got to do something in this country to support that segment of the community, that is significant, coming from the president of the United States.
CORNISH: In the end, you know, when we first got you on the line here, you sounded shocked, frankly, complete - I mean, really shocked.
HENDERSON: Well, yeah, because, you know, we're so used - we're so accustomed to President Barack Obama having to be, you know, politically correct in a lot of ways, you know? He's the president of all people in the United States. And so sometimes it is hard for him to be able to just connect with a certain segment without everyone else criticizing him or using it as racial or political division to vote against something else, to say, see, he's not one of us.
Anytime he points to something that relates to African-Americans, sometimes it's - while he's connecting with our community, he's disconnecting with the larger community. So, normally, I'm - we're accustomed, I think, to hearing that sort of middle of the ground. But today, he stepped over and said, look, you know, not only do I understand the pain. I've experienced the pain, that I've talked to my black children, my African-American children, about the pain. I've seen how they've grown through it. I see that it's different.
And then he asked some questions, which I thought was also challenging and personally challenging to all of America. He said, on the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there's a possibility that people are a little bit more honest. And at least you could ask yourself your own questions about am I wrangling as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can based not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character?
That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy. He's asking you to look in the mirror, and I think that is also a very, very monumental demand or request from the president of the United States.
CORNISH: Angelo Henderson, thank you so much for speaking with us.
HENDERSON: Thank you for having me.
CORNISH: Angelo Henderson, he's the host of "Your Voice with Angelo Henderson," a daily program on Radio One Detroit. He spoke to us from our member station, WDET. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.