Barack Obama’s words about everyday racism were more than an appeasement strategy. But now the president needs to stick with it.
The illusion is crumbling. For the last four and a half years, the U.S. has had a black president and whoever wasn’t looking closely could get the impression that the country had actually developed into a post-racist society. Prominent blacks have for a long time not just been basketball stars and musicians, but also journalists, politicians, film directors and actors.
Physical separation in large cities is slowly dissolving. In TV series blacks and whites are judges, policemen, doctors or robbers together. The only place where blacks and whites are still almost completely segregated is in Sunday church services.
With Obama’s election, it seemed official: Skin color was no longer a criterion for what chances one had at success. Many blacks who want to believe that also want to maintain the enthusiasm that came over them on election night in November of 2008. Since then, Obama has held back, purposefully avoiding the topic.
Obama knew that his ascent to office was historic, but he didn’t want to go into the history books as just being black. He wanted to be viewed as a good president. So he was silent on the subject of race and focused on being engaged in politics. Until last Friday.
General Suspicion Against Young Blacks
Just one week after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of 17-year-old black Trayvon Martin, one day before demonstrations in the entire country on account of racial profiling, Obama appeared in front of journalists in the press room of the White House and articulated the message that thousands of people took to the streets the next day: The historical experience of sheer racism and the exclusion, mistrust and injustice that black people still experience. Trayvon Martin could have been me, he said.
That is more than an appeasement strategy to prevent violence. It is a call to put the debate on the daily agenda once again and it is taking inventory of an acute problem. Obama now needs to stick to it. The “stand your ground” laws must go, and police forces and neighborhood watches require schooling. Obama does not need to concern himself with the debate, as it will progress anyway. It's a good thing that the president got involved.