In the past week, race has flooded the public discussion. The outcome of the Trayvon Martin case was frustrating and disheartening. I felt angry, then disappointed, beaten down, and sad …
Quite a lot was said on the news, on Twitter and Facebook, but President Obama finally injected some inspiration with his succinct speech on Friday when he said this:
“And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.
… in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you 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.”
In response to this speech, Charles M. Blow in the New York Times wrote a beautiful Op-Ed piece on the validation he and others have felt by hearing the leader of our country contribute to the race conversation. He wrote this:
“And while words are not actions or solutions, giving voice to a people’s pain from The People’s house has power.”
Talking about race is difficult to do. When I have written about it, it has been with a personal slant, but I am often mindful that I might upset friends or loved ones, or anger people who misinterpret or misunderstand my meaning.
In my opinion, President Obama’s speech was neither angry or accusatory. He was sincere and somewhat pleading because, simply put, he has lived his life in his skin. He has seen the prejudice in our country firsthand before he became Senator (and I attest that it has continued in a more public way since he became president).
Blow also wrote this:
“It is in these subtleties that black folks are forever forced to box with shadows, forever forced to recognize their otherness and their inability to simply blend.”
In his sobering, serious tone, President Obama confirmed his otherness and encouraged us to continue the conversation on race.
He also emphasized that our nation is progressing. With each conversation, a generation chips away at racism.
President Obama said:
“Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. I doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.
And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.”
We are talking. Let’s also listen. If we can do both, Trayvon’s death, while tragic, may spur positive change in our country.