“I have to do it. You rape our women and you are taking over our country. And you have to go.”
–Dylann Storm Roof
I understand that President Obama can’t say much about the details of the mass murder that just took place in Charleston, South Carolina due to legal constraints. That much I understand. What I don’t understand, however, is why the President , in his comments on Thursday morning, one day after the massacre, didn’t spend more time addressing the glaringly apparent racial aspects of this event that have already been openly acknowledged by authorities, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch who has designated it an official hate crime.
In choosing to reserve the majority focus of his condemnation on the continuing prevalence of gun violence, it is sadly apparent that President Obama chose an easier path to confront this tragedy which, to me at least, is not at all characteristic of who I believe him to be. Who he has proven to be in so many other instances.
Ever since Obama’s first term election, the President has been the victim of accusations from some in the African American community who charge that he has done everything possible to avoid addressing the festering issues of race that have seemingly become even more apparent and simmering since he has assumed the responsibilities of the nation’s highest office. Just the image of his dark complexion sitting in that chair, and the even darker complexion of his wife standing next to him as the nation’s First Lady, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of fanatical hatred and bitterness that has only grown more intense with each passing year he has spent serving this nation as Commander-in-Chief.
Nevertheless I have always chosen to defend Obama’s decision to keep a distance from the thicket of race and racism because I know – as I’m sure he does – what stepping into that briar patch would mean. Besides, he is president of the entire country, not just us as African Americans, no matter how much pride we take in his accomplishment. Plus I am one of those who believe that although he has not specifically labeled many of his actions as targeted toward the betterment of African Americans, we have nevertheless definitely benefited in large amount from such initiatives as his historic overhaul of the health care industry, and I can speak personally about how beneficial his making home affordable programs have been. So my inclination has almost always been to let him off the hook, or at least search for a smaller hook. He doesn’t have to say, ‘”Hey, this one’s for you, black folks.”
So don’t ask me why this particular incident is the one that set me off, because I couldn’t answer that right now. I don’t know. Because to be sure there have been so many others in recent years, from Trayvon Martin to the African American family who was assaulted at a swimming pool by a police officer. And this was barely a week past when another incident occurred at another swimming pool where another crazed police officer waved his gun at black teens before slamming a young black girl’s face into the ground.
So many, and too much. It’s just too much, Mr. President. It’s too much. And I can’t pretend to even imagine the pressure you’re under to always be overly conscious of having to frame everything in the right way. Maybe it’s too much for you too.
But they’re killing us out here. They’re killing us, and they’re killing us because they know they can. And they will keep killing us so long as they know, as we do, that black lives all too often do not matter in this country. And it’s not that we expect you to wave a magic wand and make it all better. What we expect, and what we need, is for you to let this nation know, in no uncertain terms, that this is not OK. That they cannot keep killing us and then blaming us for drowning in our own blood on our own streets.
We need to hear from you that black lives really do matter.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.