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It isn’t 1860 anymore

July 19, 2013

In a surprise appearance at a routine White House press briefing today ending at approximately 1:50 p.m.  EDT, President Obama offered his observations and perhaps his viewpoint relative to the shooting of Trayvon Martin as well as the larger issue of race relations in this country.   

First, the President is a human being, and like all of us, his views are shaped by his personal experiences.  To that extent, I fully support his desire to make those views known.

But he is also the leader of America.  All of America, not just black America. To suggest a negative outcome both during the incident and the subsequent trial because the late Mr. Martin was black opens the door to ask what another outcome might have been. 

If the racial characteristics of the two people involved were reversed, and everything else remained exactly the same, would the headlines have been different, and the perception of who was the victim and who was the perpetrator been different also? Would the headlines have read, ” White teenager attacks and injures black neighborhood watch patrolman”? Would the trial have been front page news then?

In the 1960’s I was an idealistic (white) high school student.  I passionately believed that the way blacks were being treated in that era was shameful. I believed then as I believe now that every single person in the U.S. deserves to be treated with the respect they earn, enjoy equal opportunities to succeed, and all of us deserve equal protection under the law. I couldn’t vote, but I helped letter some of those signs demanding equality for all that you saw back then and I was damn proud of it. 

Over the ensuing five or so decades, I saw the movement that began so idealistically, and had such wonderful goals turn into something I am not so proud of, and stagnate into something that continues to dwell in the mindset of that time. 

Keeping blacks and whites separated on the basis of race is no longer driven solely by white America.  Whole industries have arisen that depend on keeping the fires of racial division burning brightly.  Political careers are launched based on the idea of what I believe is not equality or justice, but payback.

Some of my far-removed kin were Irish immigrants. In the 19th and early 20th century, the Irish were persecuted as well. But the country and the Irish immigrants moved past that. I can acknowledge my heritage without feeling the need to attack the descendants of those who perpetrated those long-ago injustices. I certainly don’t think I need special dispensations or advantages because one of my great, great, great grandparents came from Ireland.

Please Mr. President, can’t we move forward from 1960, or 1860, or even 1760?  It’s 2013 for heaven’s sake. People of all races voted for you. I’d like to think that all the effort up to now can move us forward, not bind the nation in the chains of old hatreds.

What happened in Florida is a tragedy.  But was it about race, or about a 17-year old boy who didn’t know how to respond to the situation without resorting to a physical confrontation? All over the U.S. 17 year old boys of every race tend to act without considering the consequences. I don’t think that’s a black or white characteristic. 

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