As the nation’s first black commander in chief, Obama has walked a political tightrope when it comes to addressing issues of race from his perch in the White House.
In January 2015, Obama delivered what were his most robust comments on race of any of his State of the Union addresses — directly discussing the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and the then-upcoming 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma.
“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York,” Obama said last year. “But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.”
But in this year’s speech — which followed a year of protests in such cities as Chicago and Minneapolis and even riots in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal neck injury in police custody — the president did not directly address race or policing.
He opened Tuesday night’s speech by calling for criminal-
justice reform — as a proposal with bipartisan backing sits awaiting congressional approval.
He did not directly tackle the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, or the national discussion of race and policing that has underscored many of the domestic policy debates at the heart of the 2016 presidential race.
“Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native-born, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed,” Obama said, in the closest to a direct mention of race in his 2016 speech. “Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”