(The Root) — Anyone who thought the acquittal of George Zimmerman would easily be the most disappointing thing Americans would hear this weekend was quickly proved wrong. There were countless offensive reactions to the verdict, most notably gleeful celebration (which I refuse to dignify by giving the sources of said celebratory reactions the benefit of additional readers and page views through links in this column). But the most offensive reaction of them all came from a surprising source: President Obama.
The White House released the following statement on behalf of the president:
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.
The president left out one small detail. Well, several actually. For starters, one way to honor Trayvon would be to have an honest conversation about why his death happened. You can’t do that without mentioning the issue of race. Yet somehow the president managed to avoid mentioning it in the 166 words above. Just as he carefully avoided mentioning it when previously discussing this tragedy last year.
In May 2012 President Obama said, “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” He was criticized by the usual suspects, among them then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who called the comment “disgraceful.” Gingrich went on to say, “It is a tragedy this young man was shot,” later adding, “When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
But the president actually didn’t turn it into a racial issue, even though he should have, because the tragedy is one rooted in race.
Yet while countless high-profile black Americans weighed in with their own stories of racial profiling, something the president’s own attorney general, Eric Holder, has even discussed on the record, the White House strived to do everything possible to distance the president from the ugly truths and incredibly uncomfortable conversations this case forced many Americans to have. The most uncomfortable is the one in which people are forced to admit that even some white Americans who voted for Obama would probably fear a man who looked exactly like him if he were walking down the street at night wearing jeans and a hoodie — and not because he was wearing a hoodie, but because he was a black man wearing a hoodie.
This reinforces the fact that as much as our country has advanced on the issue of race, conversations about the topic are far more complicated today than they were 50 years ago. Don’t get me wrong — I count my blessings that I didn’t grow up in the segregated South like my parents did, but as I have previously written, policy issues like segregation at least have a clear-cut solution. Pass the right laws and take down the “Whites Only” signs.
In medical terms, that kind of racism is like a tumor that can be surgically moved. But the kind of subtle racist thinking that led to the Trayvon Martin tragedy is like a cancer that has spread and is so insidious it is nearly invisible and therefore virtually impossible to treat. So it is allowed to continue spreading and killing, as it killed Trayvon Martin.