Why Obama Is the Wrong Person to Lead Race Talks

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson says that although we should talk honestly about unresolved racial issues, President Obama is likely the wrong candidate to lead the discussion because some people see him as threatening.

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The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson says that although the nation should talk honestly about unresolved racial issues, President Obama is likely the wrong candidate to lead the discussion, because some people see him as threatening.

The need for what diplomats call a "full and frank exchange of views" is obvious. Many Americans don't even agree that there are unresolved racial issues, much less that such issues played a role in George Zimmerman's acquittal. It's as if some of us live on different planets.

I find it impossible to imagine the outcome would have been the same if the protagonists' roles were reversed -- if Zimmerman had been the victim and Martin the defendant. I know, however, that many people believe the hoodie-wearing African American teenager would have been accorded the same benefit of the doubt his killer was given. I also know that one's beliefs about race and racism tend to be highly correlated with one's experience of race and racism.

What we're doing now, in an awkward and uncomfortable way, is talking about those beliefs and experiences -- shouting about them, actually. For better or for worse, this seems to be the way we conduct the "national conversation about race" that thoughtful people are always recommending.

Here's how it works: Something happens that makes the subject of race all but unavoidable. We stake out our positions. We get all worked up. We start to get frustrated. Gradually we lose focus, and the dialogue, such as it was, peters out. No one thinks we've made any headway. Often we have, though the progress may not be evident for some time ...

The record indicates that honest talk from Obama about race is seen by many people as threatening. A classic example came just months into his first term, when a white police officer in Cambridge, Mass., had an unpleasant encounter with Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is black, and ended up arresting the famous scholar on his own front porch.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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