Tavis Smiley says President Obama Should Answer his Own Call for Action by Visiting Baton Rouge and Minneapolis


Now that President Obama has traveled to Dallas and shared his views on racial bias with the nation at an interfaith memorial service for the slain police officers, Falcon Heights, Minn. and Baton Rouge, La. are still waiting for their measure of presidential respect after the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by law enforcers.

Some have suggested that the president’s speech in Dallas was so masterfully delivered that he need not travel to those other communities in mourning.

I couldn’t disagree more.

The president spoke forthrightly in his remarks about his own revelation, deep into his second term, that he has seen “how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change.” He went on to say that this critical moment demands not just words, but “actions.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Actions should start with his scheduling a visit to these two communities where his most loyal base is in agony. Time and again, Black America has heard the steady refrain from Obama himself that he is the president of all America. Indeed he is. And there’s as much aching in Minnesota and Louisiana as there is in Dallas. Why render the pain and suffering invisible in these communities 64 years after Ralph Ellison? What message does the president’s absence send about the value of black life in America? Is this presidential disregard consistent with his message of wanting to unite us as a nation?

The president has given Black America the Heisman, a stiff-arming that some black fellow citizens won’t soon forget.

Given what the president is up against, and given who he is — cautious, circumspect, and carefully calibrated on race matters — I’m confident this is the most comprehensive speech this president will ever deliver on race bias. At least while he’s in the White House.

As I watched the president’s speech live on television, I wondered what the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might whisper to the president once he returned to the Oval Office.

Although powerful and persuasive, the primary problem with the president’s Dallas speech, aside from it being his only stop so far, is the false notion of moral equivalency upon which he built his address.

Let’s be clear, when it comes to race matters, what we have in America is a moral hierarchy, where the benefit is too often given to those with authority and power.

King’s definition of racism was prejudice plus power. So that black folk might certainly be capable of prejudice, but lacking any real power, one is hard pressed to advance a claim of moral equivalency, much less equal blame.

The president was absolutely on point when he suggested too many fellow citizens have “heard prejudice in our own heads and felt it in our own hearts.” But, here again, prejudicial preconception is not the same as having the power to put prejudice into practice.

When Obama chastises Black America for “pretending as if there’s no context,” it seems to me that the missing context has something to do with the erroneous belief that the lives of black fellow citizens have the same value as the lives of white citizens.

It’s just not true. Especially when the conversation turns to black citizens versus white cops.

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Source: USA Today | Tavis Smiley