Another day, another speech on race by the nation’s first black — and historically most divisive — president. If you’re Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, you witnessed:
An extraordinary moment today at the White House press briefing, as President Obama showed up unannounced to make some of his most powerful, heartfelt statements on racism in America and the Zimmerman murder trial.
And if you’re Charles Johnson, your response to the dissenting opinion is that the “right wing goes batsh*t.” As an example of the right’s lack of charity (insanity in Johnson’s world), he quotes Dan Riehl, who tweeted, “If you ever had any doubts, Obama is the first Racist in Chief.”
So what was it that Obama said that so wowed Johnson and so alienated his critics? To find out, let’s analyze the speech into its parts. In Part 2, the president laid out his three-point plan, which boils down more or less to the following bullets:
- The Justice Department, governors, and mayors need to work with law enforcement at the state and local levels to train officers so as to reduce the mistrust in the system that currently exists. Presumably, a program funded by taxpayers would be a vital step toward realizing this goal.
- Examine state and local laws to see if they are designed in a way that might encourage the kinds of confrontation that we saw in the Florida case. Presumably, a presidential task force funded by taxpayers would be a vital step toward realizing this goal.
- Spend some time thinking about ways to provide more positive reinforcement to African-American boys. Here Obama specifically mentions his “convening power,” which could be used to “convene a conversation on race.” One had the sense that that was what his remarks today were intended to do, but suffice it to say that such a conversation could be initiated — perhaps at a weekend retreat — with an “investment” of taxpayer dollars.
A cynic might argue that these are some pretty vague prescriptions, not substantive ideas. But clearly this isn’t the part of the speech that knocked Charles Johnson’s socks off. That was the Part 1, which was comprised largely of verbiage like this:
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.
And 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….
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.
It’s experiences like these, Obama tells us, that “inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.”
So is Obama is saying that all the blame belongs to the white persecutors of innocent African-Americans who subscribe to fantastic and unwarranted fears of them? Kind of. He concedes that “African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system” and even admits “that they are disproportionately … perpetrators of violence,” but quickly adds:
It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.
So he is making excuses for it. In fact, he amplifies on his rationalization:
We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
It is hard to understand what — beyond white liberal guilt — would possess the Charles Johnsons out there to see anything positive or even racially balanced in any of this. It is excuse-making and mollification of the lowest order. And the fact that the maker of the excuses is himself partly of white lineage makes the remarks inexcusable.
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