Brian Birdnow


Many commentators and editorialists have examined President Barack Obama’s now-famous remark that “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon (Martin)”.  The pundits have scrambled to find meaning in the president’s comment, and have advanced many possible theses as explanations.  Some have chalked this up to an old fashioned Clintonesque strategy of milking political gain by showing empathy in the face of personal tragedy.  Others have argued that this was a political bouquet tossed to his base of support during an increasingly tough re-election campaign.  Still others have dismissed the statement as mere political sound and fury, signifying nothing; an inconsequential remark likely to be forgotten. 

A closer look at this statement, and a review of a lesser reported, but no less significant racially tinged comment in recent days leads an unbiased observer to question the good intentions of our unifying, healing, “post-racial” President.  In mid-March, Lovie Smith, head coach of the NFL Chicago Bears, taped a commercial spot for the Obama re-election campaign.  Coach Smith characterized the 2012 election as a matter of racial solidarity, stating that Black voters have a duty to actively support the first African-American president.  Smith finished his spot with a rhetorical flourish, saying, “Barack, we got your back.”  Consider the divisive nature of a Black football coach urging his fellow African-Americans to support a black president, all in the name of racial solidarity.  (The reader might also consider the complete ruination of a Caucasian football coach who would urge his fellow white voters to support Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum in the name of racial solidarity.)  This blatant appeal to race is the type of campaigning that people have grown to expect from the likes of Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, and, to a lesser extent, Jesse Jackson.  It is not the type of campaigning people have grown to expect from the cool intellectual, the professor-in-chief, the post-racial President Barack Obama.  After all, Obama eschewed Black radicalism and presented himself as a friend of Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, heralding a new paradigm of non-racial politics, didn’t he? 

In actuality, the appeal to race is a continuing theme of the Obama campaign style, and is likely to intensify as the calendar turns to November.  Let us return to the historical record:

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.