Last Friday, President Obama made his first attempt to claim his position as the first black president. In fact, for the first time in my recollection, the President referred to himself as an African-American in one of his speeches -- a dramatic turnaround from his “post-racial” stance and his advocacy of other special interest groups.
On May 21, 2012, Newsweek proclaimed Barack Obama as America’s first gay president. They could have also dubbed him America’s first green president. Some entrepreneurs would name him America’s first socialist president. Nonetheless, when blacks voted last year, their faithfulness to their candidate arguably won the election for him. Black voter loyalty had not been strongly acknowledged or rewarded publicly. Therefore last week’s address on Trayvon Martin’s death was a milestone for black democratic activists. The speech was designed to explain to the rest of the nation what being a black man in our culture is all about. Further, the President wanted to explain why many blacks are so disturbed with George Zimmerman’s acquittal.
As the President took up the role of teacher, explainer, and advocate for black America, he fell into the trap of appearing to play the politics of grievance. Yes, it was less incendiary than the tired rhetoric of Al Sharpton, Rev. Jessie Jackson and others. He did not speak to the outrage of some whites who perennially feel accused of “keeping the black man down.” The President’s address also failed to offer substantive policies, approaches or solutions. This type of speech would not have satisfied gay or green advocates, but blacks were excited that the president had spoken up for them.
What happened to Trayvon is every black mother’s nightmare. All mothers worry, but black mothers particularly worry that their sons will become mixed up with the wrong crowd or will struggle to find an identity in a culture that loves to portray them as dangerous aggressors. But there were non-black tragedies in this case as well. The famed Allan Dershowitz impudently declared that Zimmerman should sue Angela Corry (from the Jacksonville, Florida, District Attorney’s office). He felt that the hubris of her overreach with the second-degree murder charge was only exceeded by her desire to charge Zimmerman with child abuse and felony murder. “..That was such a stretch that it goes beyond anything professionally responsible,” Dershowitz reported to Mike Huckabee.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.