are up in a piece at the Washington Post titled President Obama speaks up for Trayvon Martin. Those who have watched MSNBC this evening have heard Capehart mention this piece several times.
Here is the first paragraph (minus the hyperlinks):
President Obama’s unannounced entry into the White House Briefing Room took reporters by surprise. But what he had to say took the nation by surprise. In his first public remarks since his written statement after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin, Obama gave voice to the frustration and fear that has gripped the African American community. And he did it in the most personal terms we have seen to date.
Capehart will explore the personal remarks - about how Obama could have been Martin 35 years ago, about the experience of being followed, etc.
But the heart of the article is the 2nd paragraph:
What is so significant is that the president spoke up for Trayvon. After a trial that seemed to put Trayvon on trial for his own death and a verdict that freed people to smear all young black men for the actions of a few, Obama’s nearly 20-minute oration restored Trayvon’s dignity.Please keep reading.
For many, what was so upsetting about the trial was precisely how it seemed as if Trayvon was being put on trial, in a fashion that were it a white woman who had accused a man of rape having her history used to smear her would have brought expressions of rage from many women, except those who are old enough to experienced it directly or in observing it against their contemporaries.
We have talked about "white privilege." Perhaps we should be more specific and talk about white MALE privilege, where sometimes even males of color in companionship with white males are protected against the damage they have done to young women - and yes, that is a direct reference to Steubenville Ohio.
But let me not stray from the issue of race.
It still divides our society.
Some people still have no trouble demeaning Blacks who attempt to raise the issue of racism. Capehart experienced that through email, and in Racism and the George Zimmerman trial, a posting at the Post-Partisan section of the Post's blogs, he shared some of the emails that have come in to him, for example
Race relations WILL NEVER IMPROVE until the black community cuts the crap by making everything racial….Lose the colored glasses and you’ll be able to see things clearly. Stick to the facts and report them accurately. If one of your guests is making ridiculous statements that are not factual or distorted, have the balls to set them straight and correct their warped, skewed, and biased views. Otherwise, you too will come across as dumb, ignorant, and racially biased moron. . . ..... and that is far from the worst.
Today's remarks were very personal for Capehart - he writes
I was in the briefing room when the president said these words, and I will admit to a welling of the eyes. One of the reasons President Bill Clinton is so popular among blacks is because he spoke to them and about them in ways that were knowing. To have a president who looks like me and has lived the same experience I have and to say so before the nation was as overwhelming as it was historic.
The hyperlink in that paragraph takes you to a piece titled "Trayvon Martin and the stolen youth of black children" in which Capehart concluded
As an African American, the case was personal. The killer of an unarmed black teenager doing nothing more than returning to where he was staying on a rainy evening had to be held accountable in some way. Any life should not be taken so easily or cheaply. I wrote more than 60 pieces seeking justice for Trayvon as if my life depended on it — because one day it might.The President's words today spoke for Trayvon. They spoke for all black young males. They spoke TO all Americans, but sadly not all are willing to listen.
Consider that in taking this on Capehart has been inundated with those who are effectively saying to shut the f*&k up, especially now that Zimmerman has been acquitted. Somehow those yahoos don't seem to realize that at least half the jurors on first blush were willing to convict Zimmerman at least of manslaughter. That they finally voted for acquittal does not mean they found him innocent, but at least for those three believed that the law required them not to find him guilty. Instead they want to accuse those whose protests finally forced Florida officials to step in, investigate, and charge Zimmerman of themselves being racists . Or as one of the emails he received said to Capehart:
Your racial bias is pathetic. Carrying the gun was legal. Following Martin was legal. After punching Zimmerman in nose, killing him in self defense was legal. All else is BS. Kind of a reverse lynching you have in mind here Jon. Ironic, isn’t it. The black community lynching the hispanic guy. Revenge is sweet, is it? You’ve come a long way, baby. SHAME ON YOUI heard the president talk about how the younger generation is better than his was. Perhaps - insofar as they have a chance to go to school together, to get to know one another, young people are less likely to be as racially biased or afraid as were earlier generations. Except we are also seeing increasing segregation in our schools. Black children who are not as well educated are considered stupid because of how they speak - look at the reaction to Rachel Jeantel.
I have recently taken time to ensure that people are getting access to the reactions of Black Men - Eugene Robinson, Charles M. Blow, and now Jonathan Capehart.
I have not experienced being followed around a department store, although I do remember prejudice against Haverford College students at a Penn Fruit supermarket across Lancaster Avenue from the College in the mid 1960s. I do know that I have been treated somewhat differently depending upon how I might be dressed, or how hirsute my appearance might be. I have certainly experienced "different" reactions and treatment at times because my last name is Bernstein, even when I held high lay elective positions in the Orthodox Church of America. There will always be people who will display prejudice, and no group is totally immune from that.
Still even those who have experienced discrimination sometimes do not even recognize their own biases and prejudices. I had three maiden great aunts, sisters of my mother's mother. One was a dwarf, perhaps the result of a botched abortion. One was slightly retarded. The youngest never married because she had to care for her two sisters. I remember at one point a conversation with them, all of whom had been born in Poland, expressing belittlement towards African-Americans, and not understanding why I was interested in civil rights. One wondered why they couldn't be like the Jews and improve themselves. I pointed out that a Jew could if s/he chose lose the accents and the mannerisms, even change the family name, and not immediately be identifiable as Jewish. A black still had a black skin. They did not seem to grasp that.
The issue of racism has been of concern to me since I first encountered discrimination in the form of whites only signs for the bathrooms in the Miami airport in December of 1956. It is personal because of family - as I have noted many times, our extended families are quite diverse, with Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans mixed in with Jews and Mayflower descendants. It is also personal because of the students I teach. It is personal because if I tolerate discrimination, racism, bigotry of any kind, I am no longer in a position to complain when bigotry is directed towards me.
Most of all it is personal because the diminution of any person is to my mind a diminution of humanity.
It is not personal to me the way it is to Black Men.
Which is why I pay attention to what they say.
It is why I share their words, to help us all see with the eyes of those who have had those "conversations" either as parent or child - I could not write these words, from Capehart, in "Trayvon Martin and the stolen youth of black children"-
I’ve written about the list of “don’ts” my mother gave me when I was just a year younger than Trayvon.Today Jonathan Capehart had tears in his eyes because of the President's words, because the President spoke from a similar experience.
“Don’t run in public.” Lest someone think you’re suspicious.
“Don’t run while carrying anything in your hands.” Lest someone think you stole something.
Because of assumptions and suspicions, black kids have to be “perfect” in how they dress and how they comport themselves in public. But the Zimmerman acquittal now makes it clear that justice for an innocent black child killed requires proof that he lived his life beyond reproach at all times.
But today, something else happened. As Capehart notes
But Obama wasn’t just talking to me or fellow African Americans. He was talking to all Americans.Sadly, not all Americans will be willing to listen.
Hopefully the number who aren't willing will continue to decrease, lest we have too many more Trayvon Martins.