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MN authors Nneka Samuel and Desiree Bowie had a lot to say about President Obama’s response to the Emanuel AME shooting and whether or not he has been too meek when it comes to issues affecting the Black community. We decided to share both opinions with you at once. What do you think about the way President Obama has spoken about the realities of racism in this country? Has he said and done enough? One author says no, another says yes. 

 

Nneka Samuel

There’s a reason the Obama Anger Translator sketch from Key & Peele resonates with audiences. In it, a hyped-up, no-holds-barred Luther (played by Keegan-Michael Key) takes the words and musings of the ever calm, cool and collected President Obama (played by Jordan Peele) and transforms them into an uncensored rant.  The hilarious tell-all indicates how the President really feels in any given situation.  In real life, President Obama (who knows how to tell and take a joke) enlisted the fictional Luther’s services during his speech for this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner. He playfully acknowledged his poker face reputation.

All jokes aside, many people, especially those in the Black community, have wanted President Obama to dig deeper and take a more authentic stand on the issues and ills that disproportionately affect people of color in this country – incarceration and poverty, to name a few.  The role that race plays in American society is obvious and a resistance to openly acknowledge and discuss that role is a missed opportunity to educate, to affect positive change and to combat complacency and the white privilege that assists in sustaining systemic racism.

Though he has openly discussed both his Black and White parentage, particularly during his presidential campaign, the subject of race was largely absent during President Obama’s first term.  Race being an issue that makes a lot of Americans uncomfortable, we like to think that we are so far removed from the time where race literally divided us.  “I don’t see race” is a common misnomer that speaks to this.  And while we have made great, tremendous strides, we still have a rather long way to go.  That division, however, the past that some of us refuse to acknowledge, influences so much of how we live today.

Make no mistake, I do not and have never expected the President to be some sort of messiah to the Black race.  As the leader of the United States, President Obama has an obligation to serve as many of this country’s people as he possibly can. This often results in an all-inclusive, generalized type of parlance, as opposed to a direct, “Hey, Black people, I’m talking to you” kind of approach.  Expecting President Obama to address all of the issues that plague the Black community in America and disproportionately affect Blacks is almost as absurd as the sentiment that we live in a post-racial society simply because we voted a Black man into office.  Not to mention, focusing on a so-called “Black agenda” would have angered a large portion of the American population and surely would have made him a one-term president.  Such unrealistic expectations would not only set President Obama up for failure, but give him more power than he or any one person can yield.

However, now that he’s approaching the end of his second and final term, the president has become more vocal about the issue of race, largely in response to the tragic deaths of Black men and women at the hands of White police officers. In a recent interview with comedian Marc Maron for his “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast, President Obama had a very candid and open discussion. It was the type of conversation I would like for him to begin with the American public.

“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” the President said.  “We’re not cured from it.  And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ni**er in public.  That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.”

You already knew that the media was going to harp on the fact that President Obama used the n-word and make a story out of that instead of the real issue at hand. But the interview was especially refreshing, coming after President Obama’s White House press conference in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina shooting.  During the press conference, President Obama focused on gun violence – undoubtedly a very real and very serious issue in need of obvious reform. But he failed to address the racism that propelled Dylann Roof to murder nine Black people as they fellowshipped during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.  The President’s press conference left me wanting more. As usual.

I understand that in his role, he cannot always give personal or emotionally-charged responses.  As our leader, it would be deemed unprofessional, among other things.  And while I am happy that President Obama is not the angry Black man his opponents want him to be, I still yearn for some sort of transparency. I crave the candor he expressed in Marc Maron’s interview discussing race in America, and would like it to be more present in his dialogue with the public. Enough with the same PC responses.

Our fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are killed at church for being Black.  We are killed for driving while Black, for wearing a hoodie while Black, for selling cigarettes while Black, for having a mental illness while Black, for talking on our cell phones while Black.  Our murders are an epidemic. The way in which Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed racist and murderer – not alleged or suspected – was found alive, peacefully escorted into custody with a bulletproof vest protecting his body, and provided with Burger King after taking nine innocent lives – not only speaks to why we chant “Black Lives Matter,” but why we need President Obama to keep talking about race.  This is not business as usual.  We need to focus on healing wounds, repairing damage and creating the kind of society that has been promised to American people since this country’s inception.  We need President Obama’s help, his voice and the spotlight of his position as one of the most revered and respected heads of power in the world to ensure the kind of promising future he’s spent his career building.  No more holding back.

 

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