President Obama Friday used the Charleston, South Carolina funeral of the murdered Rev. Clementa Pinckney to tie the problems of the black community to racism, indicting an American society he says continues to harbor deep prejudices and willingly ignores the hatred, to the detriment of African Americans.
Pinckney was the leader of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he and eight other African Americans were slaughtered by a young white man during a bible study class.
Delivering the eulogy at times in the cadence of a black preacher, Obama went further than I’ve ever heard him casting problems in this country in racial terms. His commentary, while no doubt heartfelt, will regrettably focus the country more on its divisions and less on the solutions to the problems facing blacks, which today have little to do with prejudice and much to do with culture.
While Obama may well be correct that what ills the black community stems for the legacy of racism, severe prejudice is no longer widespread, and the problems for minorities and the divisions within society can only be stoked further by providing a false narrative that says others are now holding African Americans back.
Obama said Americans must not be complacent about the racism that exists among them and must combat it by making “lasting change:”
It would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. (Applause.) Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual — that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. (Applause.) To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change — that’s how we lose our way again.
Obama said the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol was an expression of “God’s grace,” adding, “I don’t think God wants us to stop there.”
He then suggested a host of ills he indicated are related to racism and could be ameliorated, at least in part, by self-examination by those harboring bias:
For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. (Applause.)
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. (Applause.) Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — (applause) — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure. (Applause.)
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. (Applause.) So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. (Applause.) By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)
Gun control, too, would be an expression of “God’s grace.”
When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.
The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this. We see that now. (Applause.) And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)
The president thinks he’s in a position to interpret God’s will. He seems to be deploying the colloquial “What would Jesus do?” as a tool for making policy, and he is convinced he has the answer.
He doesn’t. But the belief that he does could prove an ominous sign for the remaining 18 months of a presidency increasingly marked by fiat and unilateral action.
And race is increasingly becoming the defining feature of a presidency that was supposed to usher in a “post-racial society.”