Wow. Such a busy news day. So many things I could write about: a royal baby, earthquakes in China, the name “Cheney” back in the news…but I want to focus on the powerful words of our President from Friday:
“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Obama said, during extensive and deeply personal remarks that lasted for 18 minutes. “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 — that doesn’t go away.”
Obama continued: “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.”
I wrote something similar to put the murder of Martin into a context even white people could understand, but perhaps this columnist can say it better than I can:
Trayvon Martin, the president said, could have been him 35 years ago. That would have been Barack Obama at age 17, then known as Barry and living in Honolulu. He had a bushy Afro. Hoodies were not in style then, or often needed in balmy Hawaii. His customary hangout outfit was flip-flops, called “slippers” on the island, shell bracelet, OP shorts and a tee.
Imagine if Barry Obama had been shot and killed, unarmed, during a confrontation with a self-deputized neighborhood watch enforcer, perhaps in some exclusive development on the far side of Diamond Head after leaving home to get shave ice. The news reports would have painted a complicated picture of the young victim, a variation on how Martin was portrayed decades later in Florida:
Lives with his grandparents; father not around, mother somewhere overseas. Pretty good student, sometimes distracted. Likes to play pickup hoops and smoke pot. Hangs out with buddies who call themselves the Choom Gang. Depending on who is providing the physical description, he could seem unprepossessing or intimidating, easygoing or brooding. And black.
On the inside, the young Obama had already begun a long search for identity — and by extension a study of the meaning and context of race. His mother and maternal grandparents were white. He was not. He lived in one culture, and the skin color passed along to him by his absent father placed him inalterably in another, in the eyes of others. How and why did race define him, limit him, grace him, frustrate him, alienate him, propel him and connect him to the world?
The President’s words had much impact: even a former opponent of his, Sen. John McCain, lauded the president and suggested that, indeed, perhaps Stand Your Ground is bad law and ought to be discarded. It’s a step. A small step.
The right wing is missing the forest for the trees: It’s not about the verdict per se. That’s defensible as the law is a bad law, and the jury made a bad decision, but the legal one. I’ve argued in the past that they could have, and perhaps should have, looked past the law, past the immediate crime, to the context and I still believe that is what might have transpired in a fairer state.
But the football spiking of the right wing, particularly whites, has been astounding. The one thing we can be sure of is it will motivate blacks and Latinos and women across the nation to vote next year, and vote the fascists out.