Either President Obama identifies pretty strongly with Trayvon Martin, or he’s pretending to do so for political purposes.
First we had Obama’s statement that, if he’d had a son, he’d have looked like Martin. That was fairly early in the game. But now, post-verdict, we have the following from the president:
When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said this could’ve been my son. Another way of saying that is, a Trayvon Martin could’ve been me 35 years ago. When you think about why in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
Obama may identify with Martin for several reasons, the most obvious of which is being a black male. In addition, Obama smoked marijuana as a youth; so did Martin (so do lots of young men, white and black). Martin’s parents had split up, so had Obama’s. Not all was similar; unlike the young Obama, Martin had already gotten into quite a bit of trouble during his short life, and he had grown up in a largely black neighborhood.
But the most important similarity Obama is pointing out is his insinuation that they were both unfairly profiled for being black. Forget the actual reasons Zimmerman had phoned the police to report Martin as a suspicious person (hint: it was Martin’s behavior, not his color). Forget about what Martin actually did to Zimmerman to start the fight and continue it.
Obama has already described the origins of at least some of his strong feelings about profiling. They come from an incident with that “typical white person”, his grandmother, who had raised him. It might be time to take another look at what he wrote:
A careful look at this incident as Obama described it on pp. 88-91 of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance…shows that Obama is slandering his elderly grandmother to make Rev. Dr. Wright look better. Obama’s white grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who was raising him and earning most of the money in the family while his own mother was off in Indonesia…rode the bus each morning to her job as a bank executive. One day, the 16-18 year old Obama wakes up to an argument between his grandmother and grandfather. She didn’t want to ride the bus because she had been hassled by a bum at the bus stop. She tells him:
“Her lips pursed with irritation. ‘He was very aggressive, Barry. Very aggressive. I gave him a dollar and he kept asking. If the bus hadn’t come, I think he might have hit me over the head.”
So why didn’t Obama’s lefty grandfather want to drive his own wife to work? Because to help his wife avoid the hostile, dangerous panhandler would be morally wrong, because the potential mugger was … Well, I’ll let Sen. Obama tell the story:
“He turned around and I saw that he was shaking. ‘It is a big deal. It’s a big deal to me. She’s been bothered by men before. You know why she’s so scared this time. I’ll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was black.’ He whispered the word. ‘That’s the real reason why she’s bothered. And I just don’t think that right.’
“The words were like a fist in my stomach, and I wobbled to regain my composure. In my steadiest voice, I told him that such an attitude bothered me, too, but reassured him that Toot’s fears would pass and that we should give her a ride in the meantime. Gramps slumped into a chair in the living room and said he was sorry he had told me. Before my eyes, he grew small and old and very sad. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that it was all right, I understood.
“We remained like that for several minutes, in painful silence. Finally he insisted that he drive Toot after all, and I thought about my grandparents. They had sacrificed again and again for me. They had poured all their lingering hopes into my success. Never had they given me reason to doubt their love; I doubted if they ever would. And yet I knew that men who might easily have been my brothers could still inspire their rawest fear.”
Then Obama drives over for counseling to the house of his grandfather’s friend Frank, an old black Communist Party USA member, who tells him:
“What I’m trying to tell you is, your grandma’s right to be scared. She’s at least as right as Stanley is. She understands that black people have a reason to hate. That’s just how it is. For your sake, I wish it were otherwise. But it’s not. So you might as well get used to it.”
“Frank closed his eyes. His breathing slowed until he seemed to be asleep. I thought about waking him, then decided against it and walked back to the car. The earth shook under my feet, ready to crack open at any moment. I stopped, trying to steady myself, and knew for the first time that I was utterly alone.”
Well, he’s not utterly alone now, is he? He has a bully pulpit to try to avenge the perceived psychological wounds of his childhood. Note, also, that Obama’s age at the time of the incident was very similar to Martin’s age at the time of his death, and note also that his grandmother indicated a fear that the panhandler might have hit her over the head if the bus hadn’t come in time. Shades of what actually happened to Zimmerman.
Seeing the above excerpt from Obama’s book, it’s no wonder he made the speech he did today. His political agenda dovetails nicely with his psychological one. Obama’s certainly not going to ground and pound Zimmerman, but he’ll use his formidable resources to perpetuate the idea that Zimmerman was a “typical white person” who profiled Martin for being black. The actual situation—whether it be that the panhandler was aggressively harassing his grandmother, or that Trayvon Martin was acting in a way that would have caused suspicion whatever his skin color—is of absolutely no importance to Obama.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]