Race and the presidency
July 29, 2013
The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman trial spotlighted the racial divide that exists in America.
Not surprisingly, the ABC-Washington Post poll taken immediately after the verdict revealed dramatically different reactions among blacks and whites and between Democrats and Republicans.
Once again, under the glare of the big lights, we find both racial division and partisanship.
When the president raised the issue during his impromptu press conference following the verdict, he spoke of young black men being followed in department stores, of women clutching their purses more tightly in elevators and of people locking their cars doors at the approach of a black man. All valid comments, but did the president miss an opportunity to direct the nation's attention to potential solutions rather than past grievances?
Within the black community there exists a deeply rooted belief that the rules of the game in America are rigged against them. For example, how many of us are aware that before slavery was abolished, our own Constitution referred to blacks as three-fifths of a person?
How many of us realize the extent of the perverse Jim Crow laws, with their supposed "separate but equal" philosophy that affected every aspect of life for blacks? These laws institutionalized untold economic, educational and social disadvantages from restricted access to public facilities to stipulations about who blacks could marry.
History isn't always pretty. The fact remains that for most of our history (it began changing with the advent of the civil rights movement in the 1960s), government in America was in many ways an organized conspiracy against minorities, the majority of whom were black.
It's easy to blame guns, poor education and lack of jobs — but those are outgrowths of the real issue.
In a speech before the NAACP, Bill Cosby criticized black leaders for doing nothing to change a culture that has spawned a 70 percent unwed mother rate, a 55 percent high school drop-out rate and the statistical fact that young black men commit homicides at a rate 10 times greater than whites and Hispanics combined.
Cosby also criticized the black community for not teaching their kids English. He told them expressions such as, "Why you ain't … Where you is … What he drive" wasn't English and how no one speaking like that would ever get a decent job. Cosby said he first blamed the kids until he heard their mothers talk.
He spoke about millionaire football players who cannot read and million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs. He criticized parents who spend $500 on sneakers for their kids but won't pay $200 for "Hooked on Phonics."
Unfortunately, we can't legislate good parenting or taking personal responsibility for one's actions.
If Cosby hit a nerve with black leaders, Bill O'Reilly must have made them apoplectic when he opined, "The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American family. Having 73 percent of all black babies born out of wedlock drives poverty …" with the unspoken corollary that poverty is a petri dish for future drug use and crime, especially among boys lacking a positive male presence in their lives.
O'Reilly went on to ask rhetorically, when was the last time we saw a public service ad advising young black girls to avoid becoming pregnant? Has President Obama done such an ad? And how about Jackson or Sharpton? Has the Congressional Black Caucus demanded one? And how about the PC pundits who work for NBC News?
Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan recently wrote that no people anywhere have done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. He said, "Untold trillions have been spent since the '60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream."
Those statistics may be accurate, but Mr. Buchanan deludes himself if he thinks more spending and creating greater government dependency will ameliorate the root causes of the problems within the black community.
Addressing the numerous and deep-seated racial issues facing this nation — some of which may take generations to overcome — requires black leadership. And since race hustlers such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have no motivation to do so, who better to assume that role than the president?
But what racial tone has Mr. Obama set during the last four and a half years? Have his campaign themes focused on taking personal responsibility and self-reliance, two cornerstones of the American experiment and the ethos embraced by the founders? Or has "fairness," a word with a patina of victimhood and entitlement, been the dominant theme of his messages?
The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case has provided the president with a golden opportunity to bring about the "fundamental change" he promised in 2008. It's my sincere hope Mr. Obama seizes this opportunity and delivers a resonate message to a constituency that has overwhelmingly supported him through two elections — and thus benefit all Americans regardless of skin color.
Quote of the day: "Yeah, I love being famous. It's almost like being white, y'know?" — Chris Rock
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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