the conversation

President Obama made a surprise visit at this afternoon’s White House briefing to expand upon his thoughts about the Trayvon Martin case.

I’ll start with what was, for me, his most powerful statement:

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.

This is the first time in our history that such a statement could be made by the leader of our country. Along with that, it shows the potential of every person who knows what that’s like, precisely because it was spoken by the President of the United States. If the person at the top of our political system knows how it feels to hear, as he put it, “locks click on the doors of cars,” to me it shows both how far we’ve come as a nation and how far we’ve yet to go.

He offered a few things that we need to examine. He called upon the Justice Department at all levels to look into why the American system garners so much mistrust. He called upon states and towns to rethink “stand your ground” laws, asking if any of us think that if Trayvon had been of age and armed,

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?

Good question, Mr. President.

It’s the final suggestion that I find problematic. He asked us to some soul-searching about race, noting that it can’t happen at the federal level without it getting politicized.(1) He said that

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest…

There’s truth to that, to be sure. The problem with those smaller communities is that they’re often made of like-minded people. For example, I know a church not too far from here in which the pastor insists that, were Jesus be alive today, he’d carry guns.(2)  And the people who frequent that church believe the same thing, at least to a point. They’ll raise their kids to think the same thing. The kids will make friends who think the same thing. And so on.

Small communities encourage homogenous thought. Without any sort of external voice in the conversation, homogenous thought takes a very, very long time to change. Social media helps to broaden the conversation somewhat, as do books and critical thinking and even some television programming. But communities can be so insular that I can’t imagine those conversations working to affect real change.

I don’t have a better suggestion or a solution, though. For now at least, I’ll settle for the fact that the conversation is happening. And I appreciate President Obama taking some time out of his day to address the case and the larger issues behind it.

  1. Really? You don’t say?
  2. The point of this post isn’t to get into the stupidity of this. So I’ll just say this: How stupid is that?!?! Even as a lapsed Catholic I know Jesus better than that.

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