A White Person’s Reaction to Obama’s Trayvon Martin Speech

by Lee Habeeb
I could’ve been the one presumed guilty of racism and facing a media hell-bent on demonizing me.

He could have been me. I could have been out on neighborhood watch in my community performing my duties on a rainy night. It could have been me following a young African-American male around in my neighborhood because I did not recognize him, and because my neighborhood had been burglarized by young African Americans. It could have been me lying beneath a young black man who was striking my head against the concrete, my nose broken in a fight gone bad. It could have been me that tragic, deadly night.

It could have been me facing criminal charges for doing nothing illegal that night, presumed guilty of a crime I didn’t commit, and presumed guilty of being a racist, even though I had not an ounce of racism in me, and even though the way I lived my life was proof of that assertion.

It could have been me who, after being acquitted by a jury of my peers in a state trial that never would have happened but for the color of my skin — not even the color of my skin, but what my name suggested the color of my skin might be — soon became the target of an investigation by the federal government.

It could have been me facing a media so hell-bent on turning me into a monster that they said and did almost anything, including doctoring a 9-1-1 call, in order to turn me into something I wasn’t.  

It could have been me who will live with the fact that my actions led to the taking of a young life.

It could have been me. I could have been George Zimmerman.

That was the part of President Obama’s speech I was waiting to hear after his very good — but incomplete — speech about the Zimmerman case. It is true that President Obama could have been Trayvon Martin. But it is equally true that he could have been George Zimmerman.

That’s the thing about real empathy; you have to walk in the shoes of all people, not just the ones you agree with or relate to.

I was waiting for that part of the speech because President Obama is uniquely qualified to give it. Because he is half white and half black, just as George Zimmerman is half white and half Hispanic — just as most Americans are half something and half something else.

Part of the speech given by President Obama was sensitive and filled with the right kind of emotion and tone. The warehousing of young inner-city males in prisons for low-level crimes is a tragedy and also a national disgrace (one, by the way, that white Christian conservatives are working hard to rectify). Disparity in sentencing is a real problem; too many African-American males are sentenced far more stringently than whites who commit similar crimes. And the president was right to talk about the terrible disparity in unemployment rates between white people and African Americans, and the particularly high rate of youth unemployment in our inner cities. White people need to know more about these facts, and President Obama was right to talk about those things.

But what I did not hear from President Obama — the part of the speech that was missing — was any mention of the very real tragedy of so many young African Americans being warehoused in schools that have been failing them for generations. I also did not hear him talk about the warehousing of African Americans in wretched public housing that often looks and feels like prison, with gang members instead of corrections officers acting as the guards. I did not hear President Obama talk about the 75 percent of African-American babies born without fathers, and how that lack of masculine love harms neighborhoods and lives. He made no mention of how all that fatherlessness paves the path to gangs, and to babies having babies.

I was waiting to hear President Obama talk about how no social program, no community organizing, can ever replace the unconditional love of a father and mother. And how no social program can replace a good-paying job.

I was waiting to hear President Obama speak plainly about the reason that George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin. If young black males had not committed crimes in that neighborhood, would Zimmerman even have been out on patrol for the neighborhood watch?

In July 2004, Bill Cosby dared to speak of these matters in a speech he gave to the NAACP. African Americans, including many black leaders and intellectuals, instantly derided him for being “too white” and for “blaming the victim.”

I was waiting for President Obama to say something like this, which he could have lifted from Cosby’s speech:

Fifty percent dropout rate, I’m telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me. And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great-grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is “gimme, gimme, gimme.” These people want to buy the friendship of a child, and the child couldn’t care less. Those of us sitting out here who have gone on to some college or whatever we’ve done, we still fear our parents. And these people are not parenting. They’re buying things for the kid — $500 sneakers — for what? They won’t buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics.

Or he could have lifted the most profound line in Cosby’s speech: “We cannot blame white people. White people — white people don’t live over there.” “Over there” meaning the inner city, mostly black neighborhoods where most of the crime and gang activity takes place.

Racism, Cosby told the NAACP audience, isn’t the biggest problem facing the African-American community today; fatherlessness is. It is the tragedy that is the root cause of so many of the other tragedies.

And here’s another part of the speech that President Obama didn’t make (this wasn’t in Cosby’s speech): proposing radical solutions to radical problems.

Why not ask all Americans to step up and adopt at-risk kids, those kids having kids? Why not ask churches across this country to emulate what that one family did in Michael Lewis’s book The Blind Side. Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy did something that more of us could and should do: simply love a child who needs love.

Why not give poor people more choices and control over their lives? According to a recent Senate Budget Committee report, the United States annually spends over $60,000 to support welfare programs for each household in poverty. What if families could use some of that money to choose where to live and go to school? The sad fact is that too many poor African Americans are trapped by dysfunctional government institutions that purport to help them, and they can’t do what any sensible middle-class family would do in similar circumstances: move.

Here is one last thing I wanted to hear in President Obama’s speech: African Americans survived racism. It is liberalism that black people may not survive.

Indeed, liberalism may have done more harm to the black community during the past 50 years than racism has. That Detroit, a city that once had the highest per capita income in the country, is now declaring bankruptcy is proof of the damage that public-sector unions, bad public policy, and corrupt liberal leadership can do to a thriving metropolis. The story of how a once-great city with a large African-American population plunged so hard so fast, taking its people with it, is a story President Obama should tell, too.  

That’s the part of the speech I am still waiting to hear from our nation’s first biracial president. The part about Detroit. And fatherlessness. And dysfunctional liberal government that leads to a tragic waste of talent in our inner cities. And how maybe — just maybe — giving poor people more choices and more control over the money our government spends for them might lead to better outcomes.

President Obama is uniquely qualified to give that speech. If only he’d dare.

— Lee Habeeb is vice president of content for Salem Radio Network.

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