In his remarks on race last Friday, President Obama excused the railroading of George Zimmerman on the grounds of “context,” a fancy word meaning that blacks enjoy an unquestioned right to think the worst of non-blacks. “Context” had similarly led Obama to accuse a Cambridge policeman of acting “stupidly” in the Henry Louis Gates Jr. matter, a charge the president later withdrew. But at the time he justified his fact-free pontificating on a “long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”
Obama’s sensitivity to stereotyping has never stopped him from stereotyping non-blacks, including members of his family. If he “could have been” Trayvon Martin, his grandmother could have been George Zimmerman. Obama famously called her a “typical white person who, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know, you know, there’s a reaction that’s been bred in our experiences that don’t go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way, and that’s just the nature of race in our society.”
What had Obama’s white grandmother done to deserve his “typical white person” slur? Like Zimmerman, she once committed the hate crime of viewing a suspicious person as suspicious. According to his memoir Dreams from My Father, she complained about an unpleasant encounter with a black panhandler at a bus stop: “Her lips pursed with irritation. ‘He was very aggressive, Barry. Very aggressive. I gave him a dollar and he kept asking. If the bus hadn’t come, I think he might have hit me over the head.’”
Obama’s leftist grandfather, who introduced his grandson to the Marxist activist Franklin Marshall Davis, rebuked his wife for this complaint, characterizing her fear as racist and pooh-poohing her request for a ride to work. Obama sided with his grandfather in the dispute, though he thought her fears should be humored until she acquired more enlightenment. Since the book, as it has now been firmly established, is full of composites and fabricated dialogue, assessing the authenticity of anything in it is a difficult task, but here is how Obama recounted his conversation with “Gramps” about whether or not to let “Toot” tough it out at the bus stand:
“She’s been bothered by men before. You know why she’s so scared this time. I’ll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was black. He whispered the word. That’s the real reason why she’s bothered. And I just don’t think that right.”
The words were like a fist in my stomach, and I wobbled to regain my composure. In my steadiest voice, I told him that such an attitude bothered me, too, but reassured him that Toot’s fears would pass and that we should give her a ride in the meantime. Gramps slumped into a chair in the living room and said he was sorry he had told me. Before my eyes, he grew small and old and very sad. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that it was all right, I understood.
We remained like that for several minutes, in painful silence. Finally he insisted that he drive Toot after all, and I thought about my grandparents. They had sacrificed again and again for me. They had poured all their lingering hopes into my success. Never had they given me reason to doubt their love; I doubted if they ever would. And yet I knew that men who might easily have been my brothers could still inspire their rawest fear.
Then as now, Obama didn’t let the facts complicate his ideology. His grandmother told him that she was afraid of the panhandler not because he was black but because he might bop her on the head. His response was not to see her as a potential mugging victim but as a racist whose fears would one day “pass.” Should his grandmother have waited for a mugging to occur despite the panhandler’s aggressive behavior? Would that have proved her non-racist bona fides to her grandson?
Unable to extend fair analysis to his own grandmother, Obama certainly wasn’t going to grant any to George Zimmerman. He isn’t a “typical white person,” but he is close enough and the facts simply don’t matter. So what if Trayvon Martin was beating him senseless? “Context” trumps truth for Obama and amounts to nothing more than a demand that non-blacks lose the right to self-defense in the name of historical grievances, no matter how few the “victim” felt or the “villain” committed.
By peddling this line, by playing into the infantile “I am Trayvon Martin” politics of Al Sharpton, Obama has reinforced racism where he promised to erase it.