Thank You Mr. President

| August 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

The President of the United States went on television to publicly attest to his feelings of what it is like to be a black man in America. Whatever your politics, you must admit this is a brave thing to do. It’s been my impression that President Obama wants us to think of him as a man who became the head of our country because of his qualifications and platform and who also just happened to be the son of a black father.

To step forward and talk about the prejudice shown to young black men in our country and to talk about it from personal experience is truly a profile in courage. I first heard the same statements Mr. Obama said from someone leading a seminar on cultural diversity that was given by the national non-profit I worked for. The leader of the seminar, a professor at Yale, a PhD who also happened to be African American led us through an awareness session that touched on the cultural differences our volunteers needed to know when going into the homes of people from all backgrounds. This was 15 years ago.

When he stood before us and talked about his own experiences of watching women cross the street when he walked toward them or clutch their purses tight when he entered an elevator I was educated. So when President Obama used some of these same experiences as his own, I was not surprised. Here was the leader of the free world revealing the plight of men who felt marginalized and stereotyped merely because of the color of their skin. It had happened to him as well.

The stand your ground law is scary to me. It’s scary because it seems so subjective being based solely on someone’s feelings. In another case a woman in Florida, a PhD herself, who had never been in trouble, was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in jail for firing a warning shot toward her ex-husband who had a history of abusing her. The ruling was based on the fact that she left the argument, got a gun and came back to fire it. To the jury, that meant she was not afraid for her life and the stand your ground law could not apply. Again, it was case of feelings. How is anyone to know what was going through her mind?

Yet to the Martin jury, what was going through Zimmerman’s mind was indeed part of the prosecution. The jury believed Zimmerman, but not the woman who fired the shot. The woman also happened to be African American. I cannot say what she was feeling. I cannot say what Zimmerman was feeling, I can only imagine. That is why this law seems so subjective to me.

In my seminar so many years ago, I learned that some cultures feel it is improper to look directly into someone’s eyes. But many think this is shifty. Some cultures on the other hand stare intently into your eyes during a conversation. Many think this is threatening. My organization dealt with children and often a volunteer would sit on the floor when visiting with a child. We learned that some cultures find this too familiar and therefore uncomfortable. We learned that there are cultures that smile and nod yes although they are thinking no. It was an eye opening and valuable lesson that stayed with me throughout the years. I am a white woman and cannot know what it is like to be a person of color in 21st century America. Hopefully President Obama gave us the insight.

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