by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
The “master of marketing and fakery” was compelled by circumstances to appear concerned about his least favored people: young Black males and their families. President Obama’s most loyal constituents, who usually ask nothing of him, were demanding both an emotional and a substantive response to the Trayvon Martin killing. This was “all very problematic for the president, whose political success is the result of distancing himself from black people at best, and vilifying them at his worst moments.”
Freedom Rider: Obama and Trayvon Martin
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“Only pressure from below finally forced Obama to speak.”
A picture, or in some cases a video, is indeed worth 1,000 words. So it is with Barack Obama’s comments about the killing of Trayvon Martin. Obama is, like most politicians, at his best when scripted. He does not look nearly as smart when he has to improvise. That is especially true when he has to discuss something he would just rather not talk about.
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has galvanized black people across the country. Millions of people are of one mind, that this young man was killed because of racial hatred and they are of one accord in wanting to see justice done on his behalf.
This was all very problematic for the president, whose political success is the result of distancing himself from black people at best, and vilifying them at his worst moments. Despite this antipathy, the desire to swoon over a black face in a high place makes most black people defend him to the point of self-abnegation.
But all of the love directed at the Obamas when they dress up for a state dinner or alight from Air Force One would not have helped the president if he disappointed the masses on the subject of Trayvon Martin. The master of marketing and fakery had a big problem on his hands once the story made national headlines.
Administration spokespersons tap danced every time they were asked about the case. Like middle managers everywhere, they would say only what they knew their boss wanted them to say and so they were none to keen to embrace any connection with Trayvon. Press secretary Jay Carney would not even confirm that he asked the president about the case. “I talk to him about a lot of things,” was the first glib reply. He later added that the White House “would not wade into a local law enforcement matter.“ Only pressure from below finally forced Obama to speak.
“Martin is dead because his very being made him a suspect.”
The ordinarily besotted masses were driven to ask questions. Why did Obama pick up a phone and call Sandra Fluke, the law student who Rush Limbaugh called a slut, but not manage to contact Trayvon Martin’s parents? The answer is simple, there was no danger in contacting Fluke. White Democrats are always mad at the Limbaughs of the world, and spend an inordinate amount of time seeking out opinions which they can then condemn. As for Fluke, she is a well educated young white woman, untouchable and off limits from criticism. There would be no question about Ms. Fluke’s worthiness for sympathy and support.
Not so with Trayvon Martin or any other young black man. Martin is dead because his very being made him a suspect. There was little to gain and much to risk in coming to his defense, a terrible dilemma for the cautious black man whose success depends on his disconnection from other black people.
When he is off script, Obama is unsure of himself, carefully measuring every word, his eyes downcast, looking nothing like the master of charisma and marketing that put him in the White House. At such moments he looks like every school kid who is called upon to speak when he hasn’t done his homework.
Such was the president’s dilemma when he could no longer avoid the subject. He looked positively Clintonesque, the wheels turning behind his eyes, showing an intelligence which can still let him off the hook, but surely grasping for the right words. In this case right meant being none too supportive of black people, while simultaneously trying not to piss them off.
“His words were so careful that they were devoid of emotion.”
After saying blandly acceptable things such as how tragic Trayvon’s death was, and thinking about the case as a father, and exhorting all levels of government to come together and get to the bottom of the case, he knew had to say something which would appeal to black people.
“If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” at last came from his lips. An acknowledgement of the obvious, that he and Trayvon were of the same race. He did not connect any particular feeling to knowing that a son of his might end up like Trayvon and his words were so careful that they were devoid of emotion. That is all we can expect from Obama, a careful man allowed to be all the more careful because of the undeserved love showered upon him by black people who should be looking out for themselves instead.
Of course, a little bit of perception would have revealed the truth. How can the president say he is “glad the Justice Department is looking into this” when the Justice Department follows his direction? He even managed to distance himself from one of his own cabinet level agencies.
So Obama does what he has been doing for years now. He is the black but not so black man, and all black people are worse off because of his success. If there is justice for Trayvon it will be in spite of Barack Obama, not because of him.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.