Yesterday, President Barack Obama made intensely personal comments on the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, noting that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” and discussing the toll of racial profiling not only on the African-American community but in his own life. Watch his full remarks below – in our opinion they’re insightful, measured, and well worth a listen.
Naturally, it didn’t take long for a certain brand of cultural commentator to pounce on the president’s remarks with a level of outrage usually reserved for people who make spelling mistakes on Reddit. These folks are able to bring the rage for just about anything the president does, but when race is also involved it seems the dial goes to 11. It might seem that the flaws in these outraged and outrageous Tweets are manifestly obvious, but we think they’re emblematic of much of what’s been wrong about the discussion of Trayvon Martin’s murder from the very beginning. As such we want to take the time to directly rebut six of the top twelve conservative freakouts, as determined by this piece from our colleagues at Think Progress.
Fox News Todd Starnes: “Obama’s comments today justify what I said on Hannity earlier this week. He truly is trying to tear our country apart.”
Unless Mr. Starnes is referring to some other comments we missed in which the president demanded rioting and vengeance for Trayvon Martin’s death, it’s not exactly clear what this claim is based on. In the clip we watched (presumably the same remarks Starnes saw) Obama attempts to explain the African-American community’s reaction to the Zimmerman verdict to a public which has, at least in part, been not just puzzled by that reaction but determinedly and even hostilely so. Explaining those sentiments to a segment of the population that has been at times vocally puzzled by them seems like just the opposite of tearing the country apart – unless, of course, Mr. Starnes thinks that the easiest path to unity is for minorities and the underprivileged to shut up and accept their lot in life. But we’re sure that thought’s never crossed his mind.
Conservative Blogger Dan Riehl: “If you ever had any doubts, Obama is the first racist in chief.”
Genuinely not sure what reality this comment is based in, although “first racist in chief” is certainly a catchy phrase. It doesn’t seem right to apply it to Obama though (our vote for first Racist-in-Chief, unfortunately, would have to be for George Washington, who owned over 300 Black slaves) and even if it was it wouldn’t be this speech that earned him the title. If you didn’t take the time to watch the clip above, Obama doesn’t blame white people in general for Martin’s death, say that Zimmerman deserved to go to jail just because he was Hispanic, or anything else that might reasonably be deemed racist. So where’s Riehl coming from? Is it possible (we’re treading lightly here, for fear of being accused of racism ourselves) that the hysteria over so-called “reverse racism” so long lobbed from certain quarters at any attempt to end white privilege has now been extended to any attempt to even talk about or address that privilege.
Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh: “President Obama is making this all about race. All. About. Race.”
Compared to the first two this Tweet seems relatively sane. After all, the president actually did address issues of race in the comments Mr. Walsh refers to. That being said, we take issue with his contention that it’s the president who is making this all about race. In our opinion this case was “All. About. Race.” from the moment Zimmerman decided to follow Trayvon Martin. Unless you believe that a White teenager out to buy Skittles would raise the suspicion of a neighborhood watch, be deemed a thug and a threat because he’d been suspended from school and sometimes smoked pot, and be murdered without so much as an arrest for forty-four days, this case is about race. And even if you do believe all that, it certainly wasn’t Obama who made this case about race – commentators from both sides of the aisle have been doing that since the case first made headlines.
Republican Strategist Brian Walsh: “Remarkable that the President of the United States continues to fan the flames on George Zimmerman. #StopTalkingSir”
We’d consider it remarkable if the president of the United States didn’t speak on an issue that’s captured the nation’s attention and raised serious questions about the state of race relations and the criminal justice system. That point aside, “fan the flames” is an awfully strong term for the clip we watched – see the rebuttal of Mr. Starnes’ comment, above. #StopTweetingSir
Fox News Contributor Tammy Bruce: “So Obama “could have been” Trayvon 35 yrs ago? I had no idea Obama sucker-punched a watch volunteer & then bashed his head in. Who knew?”
First of all, the hyperbole bears noting. “Sucker-punched” isn’t quite the right term for accosting a man who’s been following you in the dark, nor has it been proven that Trayvon Martin threw the first punch that night, or that if he did it was without warning. Along the same line, George Zimmerman’s broken nose and scratched scalp don’t look like injuries to sneeze at, but when we imagine a bashed in head it’s significantly more gory. More importantly, the deliberate misunderstanding of Obama’s comparison of his younger self, a young Black man with a minor disciplinary record and a fondness for marijuana to Trayvon Martin is a deliberate lowering of an important discourse on profiling and race relations.
John Nolte of Breitbart.com: “I like living in a country where a black president elected twice complains about racism.”
Is the argument that as someone who has overcome racism, both personal or institutionalized, Obama no longer has the right to criticize it? Or is it, even more foolishly, that racism no longer exists, because the election and re-election of a black president has magically made the people who regularly refer to him as “the n****r” disappear? Either argument is equally foolish. We’d love to live in the country Mr. Nolte mistakenly believes is out there, but as long as we ignore the all-too-real racism that still exists, that’s not going to happen.
There are seven more Tweets like these featured in TP’s article (the final Tweet from Mr. Nolte was a bonus added after publication) but they’re either very similar to those listed above, or, in some cases, angry statements of fact whose attitude we may disagree with but whose content we can’t factually deny. If you’d like to take a look and post your own rebuttals in comments (or defenses, we’re all about the power of diversity here,) we’d welcome your input.
Photo from MSNBC.