With a Black President, Race Talk Is Harder

In a piece for the Washington Post, Reniqua Allen says she thought that having a black president would do more to inspire productive conversations about race in America.

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In a piece for the Washington Post, Reniqua Allen says she thought that having a black president would do more to inspire productive conversations about race in America:

Right now the nation has embarked on a massive conversation about race surrounding the tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. On Friday, President Obama weighed in. “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out: How does something like this happen?” he said.

It’s an important conversation to have -- but I fear it won’t lead anywhere. After all, we’ve seen plenty of these debates in recent years, invariably prompted by some tragedy or controversy. Think Troy Davis. Or Shirley Sherrod. Or Jeremiah Wright. Or Henry Louis Gates Jr. Or even Rodney King. We have big debates over racial prejudice and disparities in this country, and then nothing happens.

I thought things would be different by now. The Trayvon Martin story flared up exactly four years after Obama’s famous campaign speech on race in Philadelphia, a speech that made so many of us believe that Obama would launch a serious, enduring dialogue. But the election of the first black president hasn’t made it easier to talk about race in America. It’s made it harder.

Obama’s measured words on Friday only highlighted how removed the president seems from the candidate who gave that stirring speech on race four years ago. Obama was asked directly about “allegations of lingering racism in our society,” but he shied away. He rightly used caution in talking about a case that the Justice Department is investigating, and he offered a moving sentiment for Martin’s parents, saying, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” But he hasn’t grappled with this tragedy, or with racial disparities and divisions, along with us, guiding us in a way that only he can -- as the commander in chief, as a lawyer, as a community leader and as a black man.

Read Reniqua Allen's entire piece at the Washington Post.

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