Obama Explains Black America To White America

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President Obama tackled race head-on in his first on-camera response to George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

President Obama tackled race head-on in his first on-camera response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

The days are few and far between when President Obama has intentionally reminded us that he is the first African-American president.

Friday was one.

The president did something no other holder of his office has ever had the life experience to do: He used the bully pulpit to, as an African-American, explain black America to white America in the wake of last week’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Appearing unannounced before surprised reporters who were expecting the White House press secretary, it was Obama — “the bridge” as New Yorker editor David Remnick has called him — trying to span a divide. It was Obama trying to help white Americans comprehend black America’s reaction to the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy.

To a degree, it was reminiscent of the widely hailed Philadelphia speech Obama made during the 2008 presidential campaign to explain American racial realities during the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

For that moment, Obama’s bridge went two ways as he explained whites to blacks and blacks to whites. That speech found Obama standing between two races as the son of a black African father and white American mother and translating for each side.

Not so with Friday’s remarks: They were one way. The president focused on why so many African-Americans have reacted as if they were gut-punched from the time they first learned of the circumstances surrounding the shooting until the verdict. He made no attempt to explain whites to blacks.

To whites who have insisted the case wasn’t about race, the president explained why so many blacks disagree. In a powerful reminder of his unique place in history, he cited his own personal experience as an African-American.