Barack Obama at this morning's press conference on the death of Trayvon Martin.
President Barack Obama has spoken out relatively rarely in his presidency on the big, controversial issues that dominate our headlines. In an analysis this week, the New York Times described his political strategy as a "hidden hand," saying: "While other presidents have put the bully in the bully pulpit, Mr. Obama uses his megaphone, and the power that comes with it, sparingly, speaking out when he decides his voice can shape the trajectory of an issue and staying silent when he thinks it might be counterproductive."
So it's extraordinary that Obama used his megaphone today to talk about why the Trayvon Martin case and "not guilty" verdict for George Zimmerman has led to such hurt and outrage across the country—and it's powerful the way he connected the politics of the case to his personal experiences with systemic racism.
Full text of the speech and more commentary is below.
But some people have managed to sort out their emotions into solid analysis of the verdict and trial. What is emerging is a narrative that this verdict is a high-profile example of flaws in our justice system that perpetuate racial bias.
This past week, the news broke that New York City began to instruct its police officers this winter that to make sure they act accordingly to legality of women going topless in public. It's easy to dismiss this law with a punch line, but the truth is that instructing all of New York's police force to leave topless women alone is groundbreaking and part of a long running movement lead by women who have fought for topless equality.
For four years, reporters swarmed the ancient Italian town of Perugia, wrestling one another like dogs to be the first to break each rumor in the titillating murder case of British woman Meredith Kercher. In the vapid analysis of most news bites, headline painted roommate Amanda Knox as a perfect girl-next-door with a dark side: a vengeful seductress killer.
The decision to continually portray mental illness in pop culture for cheap, scary thrills and to avoid giving motivation for villains beyond "the crazy" has consequences. Those consequences are primarily felt by us, our loved ones, and our communities. When people tell me I'm "reading too much" into the number of times I've seen a mental health condition as the only motive for being a murderer on the latest Crime Drama, I want to ask them if they've ever considered why I don't tell them what my diagnosis is. The only time I see "me" on TV is as a murderer, and that has directly influenced my decisions about disclosing, about seeking mental health services, and about talking to my family and friends about my diagnosis. And in that, I am by no means alone.
If you read popular anti-street harassment blogs and media coverage of the topic, a pattern of perpetrator name-calling rapidly emerges, and some of the most prevalent terms you'll hear to describe the guys who "holla" at women and girls in public spaces are "pervert," "asshole," and "creep." I've always felt uneasy at this type of dehumanizing, knee-jerk response, and at this defining stage of street harassment, it would be wise to interrogate its purpose and meaning in shaping a new narrative regarding violence against women.
It is not my pleasure to remind anyone of the 2001 teen flick Sugar & Spice. Teetering between the black humor of Heathers and the girly glitz of Clueless, it achieves the success of neither, and I bring it up now only because of a single scene.
Get angry all over again. An incredibly detailed historical account of the events leading up to Thomas’ confirmation, this tome gives you all the evidence you need to confirm your own sneaking suspicions about the rampant sexism and racism of our lovely political system. See how senators overlooked, hid, and distorted evidence; see how witnesses were ignored and manipulated. We all need to sort through the confusing maelstrom of rhetoric that was the Hill/Thomas hearings. Help is here.