By now, you know I have no patience for the crowd that demands President Obama champion a “Black Agenda.” And that impatience bubbled forth on MSNBC this week when Kelli Goff hammered Obama for not speaking out more forcefully about the racial aspect of the George Zimmerman trial. A lot of the complaints lack political nuance and an appreciation of the particular burden on Obama as the first black president, and they border on the naive considering our current jacked-up political process.
But there is a way to make the case for a more vocal Obama that takes all these things into account. And Janet Langhart Cohen, the writer of the play “Anne & Emmett,” does it masterfully on The Post’s op-ed page.
In “After Zimmerman verdict, Obama needs to speak about racism,” Cohen makes the same arguments as Goff and others. But her appeal is to Obama as president of the United States not president of black America.
During this period of self-imposed silence, we have watched our criminal laws become racialized and our race criminalized. Blacks continue to be faced with punishing unfairness and inequalities. Soaring rates of unemployment, discriminatory drug laws, disproportionate prison sentences, unequal access to health care and healthy food, unfair stop-and-frisk policies and “accidental” shootings of unarmed black men by the police — these and more are treated with indifference or contempt. We’re told to stop complaining, to get over it. No one cares.
But that’s just the point of living in the United States. Somebody is supposed to care. Our elected officials, beginning with the president, are charged with the responsibility of listening to the needs, the grievances, the voices of the people — including people of color.
No one can argue with that, especially those folks filling my inbox with their sudden concern for black-on-black crime or other ills that have burdened the black community long before Zimmerman and his victim Trayvon Martin tragically became household names. Somebody IS supposed to care. And I agree with Cohen’s urgent plea to Obama.
I say this with respect: To use Dr. King’s phrase, there is a fierce urgency of now for the president to talk boldly and truthfully about race and racism and why it still matters in the United States. I hope that President Obama will speak not just to black people or just to white people but to the good people in America. We can never have racial reconciliation without discussing the truth.
There is no better person in the history of this nation to do what Cohen asks than Obama.
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