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Miles Rapoport Headshot

On President Obama's Remarks, Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman Trial

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At Demos, we are working for an America where we all have an equal say and an equal chance. The slaying of Trayvon Martin has reminded us that we have not yet achieved an America where we all have equal chance to merely live. Trayvon Martin was denied that chance because his identity was one that our society marks, in countless ways each day, as fearsome. This fear-based animus towards young African American men is so pervasive in our society that a jury found this fear to be reasonable -- so reasonable that it was justifiable grounds for his killing.

We know that African American men are subject to this stigma and distrust in virtually all aspects of life, from health care to the job market to the school system to interactions with law enforcement. This prejudice leads to unequal outcomes and lost opportunities for these young Americans to fulfill their dreams -- at an incalculable cost to our entire community.

Because this cost is borne by all of us, we at Demos have stood in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Americans who gathered in the streets to show what democracy looks like since the verdict. Democracy in America is multi-racial, young, idealistic, full of love despite our differences, and audacious in the sometimes unfashionable belief that we really can be one people.

For too long, the loudest and most frequently heard voices on race in our public discourse have been those who seek to keep our nation's hierarchies intact, who sow distrust and deny the existence of bias. That is why we applaud the president's actions and words on Friday. He did what only he could do: use the highest office in the land to evoke empathy for the daily trials of African Americans; empathy among those of us who are rarely feared for our appearance, and who rarely witness bias at play -- even our own.

But the facts are clear. We know that racism has evolved in the 50 years since the March on Washington, and that both structural and unconscious individual racism are still a plague on our diverse community. In polls and implicit association tests, the majority of Americans express both explicit and implicit anti-black and anti-Latino prejudices. Against this knowledge -- and the knowledge that this bias set in motion the events that ended the life of an innocent child -- we cannot continue to delude ourselves that our hearts, or our laws, are colorblind.

Until we address structural racial inequalities and our persistent, often unconscious, biases, our entire society will be less prosperous and secure. That is why throughout all of our work, Demos advocates not just for people but for the very idea of the people -- of one nation, united by a shared fate.