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Dorian de Wind Headshot

Fortunately, Obama Didn't Get 'Mum Is the Word' Message

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I like Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post although I do not always agree with him. Today, I strongly disagree with him for his suggestion that "Obama is the wrong person to lead discussion about race."

Robinson is concerned that those who would prefer not to talk about race will not respond well to "the observations and oratory of the first African-American president when he talks about race" and that "honest talk from Obama about race is seen by many people as threatening."

Robinson recalls that when Obama said, "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," he drew "shrieks of accusation" because, allegedly, the president "was unfairly taking sides in a criminal case."

On the other hand, Robinson is happy with Obama's July 14 statement following the Zimmerman verdict, because it was "anodyne and forgettable." Robinson adds, "Perhaps that's for the best."

In my opinion, it is not best for the country when a president makes "forgettable statements."

As for the suggestion that the president's frank talk about race, racism and bigotry is seen by some as threatening, it is to me even more reason to discuss such issues. There must be a reason why some feel threatened, and it should be addressed.

And it is perfectly OK for a black president to say that if he had a son, he'd look like another black kid.

And, if such a natural, personal statement draws "shrieks of accusation," never mind.

You see, a good president -- black or white -- does not ignore reality, no matter how absurd or, as in this case, how obvious it is.

A good president -- whether white, black or brown -- must speak his mind on whatever serious problem haunts and threatens our nation and its people, even -- or especially -- race. Such a discussion cannot be called "counterproductive."

Finally, a president cannot ignore reality, bias, racism or injustice because he is black or -- as Robinson says -- because he is the "first black (fill in the blank)."

So I am glad that our first black president, today, in a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, shared his personal thoughts on the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, saying it is important to look at the case through the lens of past discrimination.

And I am glad that the president today unabashedly reaffirmed his personal feelings that if he had a son, he'd look like Trayvon:

You know, 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.

I am glad that America's first black president recounted the unfortunate experiences so many black Americans endure, just because they are black, but -- more important -- that he shared his own personal experiences as a black American, before he was president, before he was a senator:

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. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And in the context of the events in Florida:

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

The president said plenty more and I am glad. You can read it all here.

Of course there will be those who will not respond well to "the observations and oratory of the first African-American president when he talks about race."

Of course there will be those who will feel threatened.

Of course there will be "shrieks of accusation" -- there always have been with this president.

But while the president's words today may not have been as "anodyne" as last Sunday's, they are neither "forgettable" nor inconsequential.

And that's good, because America sometimes needs to hear the uncomfortable truth more than just anodyne words.