President Obama has spoken. Last Friday, in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, the president spoke about race in America. He spoke from his heart about the larger African-American experience and his own experiences too.
Without fanfare or a heads up for the media, without a teleprompter or notes, the president became real. His impromptu speech was raw and personal. You could see it in his facial expressions and hear it in his words.
As this president chooses the acquittal of George Zimmerman to reaffirm his black heritage, we should remind him that he should be there for all of us.
He talked to us about what it was like to be black and to feel people’s fears and prejudices as they “breathe” differently and “clutch their purses” in his presence.
In giving that speech, he became the first president to address race in America in such a deeply personal way. Good for him.
And as groundbreaking as President Obama delivering these remarks was, his message was not. The message is one that we have heard from others before him —African-American activists like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and, more recently, Martin Luther King, III; intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson; comedians like Chris Rock and Kevin Hart.
As a society, we know the challenges that face black America because so many speak up and speak out for African-Americans.
I am jealous.
Yes, that’s right. I am jealous that, as an American of Hispanic descent, I have no one to speak for me, tell my stories, relate my fears or talk about the prejudice my brothers, sons and I face.
It is good and fitting that the president would speak to America about the black experience, but who is there to speak about other experiences, including the Hispanic experience?
Just as we revere the history of America going back to our forefathers, we have also come to revere the stories of African-Americans. We know the challenges and wrongs they have faced. They have seared the names of their leaders in our minds, and have made us take note of those they have lost in their struggles.
But how many Americans can recount any story of a Latino struggling for equality in America? Can you name a single Hispanic leader who is anywhere as prominent as the African-American leaders of our time? And no, Cesar Chavez no longer counts.
The president mentioned how young, black men are treated with scrutiny and even disdain in public. That’s a part of his history. Here’s what else is part of his history: No president in the history of the United States has separated more Latino families than President Obama. More than five thousand Latino children have been ripped from their parents' arms and placed in foster care under the Obama administration. It’s a distinction that will forever be a part of his legacy.
This president, who identifies as a minority, and understands what it’s like to be a minority, can’t and won’t extend his empathy and understanding to other Americans. It is an irony that is no longer lost on any of us.
And it’s not just about Latinos. Many Americans want somebody to speak for them and to understand them. There are Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Latinos, Jewish-Americans and others who also want the President to know and tell their stories.
We don’t begrudge President Obama for talking about what he knows and feels. But what I know and feel, and what others know and feel, is no less valid. Wouldn’t it be great to have a president who could speak from the heart, with a national forum, about our story and our challenges? And so as this president chooses the acquittal of George Zimmerman to reaffirm his black heritage, we should remind him that he should be there for all of us.