You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son.
Yeah, I know it was kind of cheesy, but Michelle loved that line.
Of course, if I'd married my old girlfriend, Genevieve, our son would have looked more like George Zimmerman, but, then, Genevieve and I never would have allowed our son to live in some crime-ridden exurban sticksville, so that's irrelevant.
Still, I wonder what Genny's up to? I saw in the Times where she married that Egyptian guy, but that couldn't have lasted, could it?
Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.
When I was a preppy at Punahou and a liberal arts major at Oxy, I was quite the badass.
And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, 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 -- that doesn’t go away.
It used to be Civil War-obsessed white Southerners who said things like, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Should I cite Faulkner for the literary cred, or is it too uncomfortable?
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.
Note to self: include a searing chapter in my post-presidential memoir on that security guard at the State Street Marshall Field's who eyeballed me in a suspicious manner while I was in the scarf section. Leave out the part about her being black. (My agent says an 8-figure advance is possible. Note to self: Find a new agent who will take on the ex-President for the prestige plus a 2.5% commission.)
And 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.
As you'll recall, Zimmerman got out of the car even though the police ordered him not to. But locking yourself in your car is also racist ...
That happens to me, at least before I was a senator.
Have I ever mentioned how fascinating the young me found the ice machine in motels? I did? Hmmhhmm, my next book about me is going to be a struggle. I should have tried to lead a more interesting pre-Presidential life.
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.
What the hell is wrong with women anyway? Look at my harpy grandmother, demanding my poor grandfather get up off the couch and drive her to her bank veep job to keep her from being mugged by some black drifter at her bus stop. Did I mention she was an alcoholic? I shouldn't have mentioned that to Maraniss, but nobody read his book anyway, so I can easily get a chapter out of her losing her struggle with the bottle.
And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. ...
The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.
Remember that David Remnick bestseller that was supposed to be about me but was mostly about a bunch of historical context stuff that happened in Selma while I was making sand castles on Waikiki Beach? Maybe I should write my next autobiography like that?
We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
I could do a series of PBS specials where I visit landmark sites in the history of the civil rights struggle and then talk about my feelings when I first heard about them during class discussions at Punahou. We could do dramatic re-enactments of key scenes in American history like the murder of those four little girls and that classmate wanting to touch my hair. Who should play me at Punahou? Does Will Smith have any more sons?
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.
The media doesn't talk about the KKK enough. We need more movies like Django Unchained. (How about Obama Unchained, where I'm finally free of the stifling White House living quarters. Do you realize I have to live with my mother-in-law? On January 21, 2017, I will -- free, free at last -- walk to the bookstore and spend the afternoon browsing in the lit fic section. But will there even be bookstores in 2017? Or will I be condemned to spend the rest of my life like Bill Clinton, checking my iPhone and talking to people?)
And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there
What organization puts these statistics out there anyway?
that show that African-American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
You see, harping on white racism several generations ago is providing "context" for black criminality today, while pointing out the high rate of black criminality today is making "an excuse" for racial profiling. It's really quite simple when you stop and think about it: just ask, "Whose side am I on?" and you are 90% of the way there.
Can you imagine where I'd be if I had never figured that out?
I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.
Okay, a pre-emptive concession to Limbaugh and Coulter, and the MSNBC crowd won't comprehend that sentence -- their brains turn off when they hear "statistically," and I used it twice -- so it's win-win. You know, if you are a good enough lawyer, you don't have to, exactly, lie.
So -- so folks understand the challenges that exist for African- American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or -- and that context is being denied.
In other words, there is much frustration that George Zimmerman wasn't railroaded in 2013 for what white people did in 1913, that The Narrative wasn't allowed to overwhelm minor matters such as the rule of law and individual questions of guilt or innocence in the name of context. I can live with that.
And -- and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.
Yeah, like if Travis Martin had gotten shot by Paul Blarto, condo cop, I never would have heard about this whole fiasco. Of course, as Axelrod kept insisting, we needed massive black turnout in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Miami to win re-election, so it's all for the best, but still, can't we just move on? Can't we get back to talking about Emmett Till, or me, instead of about the present?
... But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do? I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there ...
Like Holder's really going to find out anything new and useful. Every damn thing that's come out in the last 15 months has been unhelpful. Why did I ever get myself into this tarball, anyway? I mean, besides re-election ...
... but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government -- the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.
That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation, we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.
1. Spend more on diversity sensitivity training
Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it’d be productive for the Justice Department -- governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists. ...
So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And -- and let’s figure out other ways for us to push out that kind of training.
Hey, look, all the reporters are writing down what I just said, as if diversity sensitivity training is some groundbreaking new Nobel-worthy idea I just came up with. If I weren't so bored and depressed, I could have some fun seeing seeing what I could get reporters to write down like I'm Moses come down from the mountain.
2. Stand Your Ground Laws
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it -- if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.
I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the stand your ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.
But that's not the point, is it? The point is that we need to be talking about what I want to talk about, not some technicalities about what actually happened.
On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?
And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?
Zimmerman should have unlocked his doors and driven in the opposite direction.
And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
Because what else do we have on our plates at the moment? Do you have some higher priority than Florida laws?
3. Bolster young black male self-esteem
Number three -- and this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?
Maybe we should try to help young black males get fast food starter jobs instead of just employing illegals at McDonalds? Oh, wait, don't go there ...
You know, I’m not naive about the prospects of some brand-new federal program.
I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power.
And there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes
I should have LeBron over. Sweet. You know, I always felt that he got a bad rap over going to Miami. I mean, if Nowitzki didn't have that epic shooting streak in the 2011 playoffs, LBJ would have three straight rings. Oh ... where was I?
and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that -- and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed -- you know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.
Okay, what I'm deep down talking about here is that horrible rap music (why doesn't today's youth like Stevie Wonder, anyway?) teaching black teens stupid lessons about never letting a diss go un-answered, but my NPR audience will never notice this. Hell, Sharpton craps on rap better than I ever could, but nobody pays attention to him when he's telling black people something that would be good for them, so I can't blame him for whipping up this fiasco. (But, I won't forgive him, either.)
4. Don't have a conversation about race, just silently stop noticing patterns.
And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.
Diss on Bill and Hill, and Holder, too. Have you noticed that Holder's getting on my nerves?
They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.
In other words, how did this whole Martin-Zimmerman conversation work out for my side (I mean, other than the re-election thing)? It turned out to be just every stereotype imaginable come to life. So, let's not discuss any lessons learned from this.
On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
"Am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?" If I say so myself, that one isn't bad! More Congregationalist than Maoist. That will give the post-Puritans something to do with their time.
#5. At least most people these days aren't as racist as my grandmother
And let me just leave you with -- with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. I doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are.
You'd be surprised how few KKK members there are these days at a $35,000 per year Quaker school.
They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.
And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.
I'm the Divider. I get to use this fiasco, not you. I used it, so let's move on.
But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union -- not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
Remember how much everybody liked my "Toward a More Perfect Union" speech back in 2008 right after those awkward Rev. Wright tapes got aired? Let's try to recapture that feeling, people!