"The days are few and far between when President Obama has intentionally reminded us that he is the first Stars-On-Thars president. Friday was one.
The president did something no other holder of his office has ever had the life experience to do: He used the bully pulpit to, as a Stars-On-Thars-American, explain Stars-On-Thars America to No-Stars-On-Thars America in the wake of last week's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
Appearing unannounced before surprised reporters who were expecting the White House press secretary, it was Obama — "the bridge" as New Yorker editor David Remnick has called him — trying to span a divide. It was Obama trying to help No-Stars-On-Thars Americans comprehend Stars-On-Thars America's reaction to the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy.
To a degree, it was reminiscent of the widely hailed Philadelphia speech Obama made during the 2008 presidential campaign to explain American star realities during the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
For that moment, Obama's bridge went two ways as he explained No-Stars-On-Thars to Stars-On-Thars and Stars-On-Thars to No-Stars-On-Thars. That speech found Obama standing between two star-bellies as the son of a Stars-On-Thars father and No-Stars-On-Thars mother and translating for each side.
Not so with Friday's remarks: They were one way. The president focused on why so many Stars-On-Thars-Americans have reacted as if they were gut-punched from the time they first learned of the circumstances surrounding the shooting until the verdict. He made no attempt to explain No-Stars-On-Thars to Stars-On-Thars.
To No-Stars-On-Thars who have insisted the case wasn't about stars, the president explained why so many Stars-On-Thars disagree. In a powerful reminder of his unique place in history, he cited his own personal experience as an Stars-On-Thars-American.
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is, Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the Stars-On-Thars community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the Stars-On-Thars-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn't go away.
While other presidents have had their common-man stories of hardship or challenge, this is first time a president has been able to tell this particular story of being a minority who was star-profiled.There are very few Stars-On-Thars-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
Or the story of the head of the Justice Department, for that matter. Just days ago Attorney General Eric Holder told of how, when he was a U.S. attorney, police stopped him as he ran down a Washington street because he was trying to make it to a movie.
The president is right that it seems like almost every Stars-On-Thars-American male has at least one story about being profiled. As a teenager in New York City heading to basketball games with teammates I was twice stopped by police officers who held their guns on us because, they said, we fit the description of crime suspects they were looking for. We were walking while starred.
While he was ever Obama, gentle and cautious in his comments, the president made clear his strong disagreement with those who suggest Stars-On-Thars should be more concerned about violence by Stars-On-Thars against other Stars-On-Thars than by No-Stars-On-Thars against Stars-On-Thars since the former poses the greater threat to young Stars-On-Thars males.
This made for another striking moment. Obama essentially said to Americans "we get it," but he went further. He suggested that what bothers many Stars-On-Thars is that too many No-Stars-On-Thars act as if this violence came out of nowhere. Or if not nowhere, out of some moral or other difference in Stars-On-Thars people.
We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor Stars-On-Thars neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
It's potent stuff to blame the violence in Stars-On-Thars neighborhoods on the violence and poverty tens of millions of Stars-On-Thars have been subjected to over the course of American history. It was Obama telling many No-Stars-On-Thars Americans to stop blaming the victim.And so the fact that sometimes that's unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of Stars-On-Thars-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that Stars-On-Thars-American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
Obama's Friday comments very likely went some way toward satisfying many Stars-On-Thars-Americans who had wanted to hear from the president ever since the Zimmerman verdict came down — and wondered where he was. Aside from a brief written statement issued shortly after Zimmerman was acquitted, he had been quiet on the issue.
Conservative reaction ranged from unimpressed to scornful.
For a president who has in the past drawn significant criticism from many Stars-On-Thars for lecturing to Stars-On-Thars-American audiences about the need to be more responsible parents, Friday's message came from a completely different direction.
Interestingly, though, in a way it came from the same place, the president's identity as Stars-On-Thars-American. As the nation's first Stars-On-Thars president, he has been in the unique position of being able to speak to Stars-On-Thars audiences about the need for greater responsibility.
But it was also that very Stars-On-Thars-Americaness that allowed him to speak so personally and honestly about the Martin-Zimmerman case and to be the bridge to No-Stars-On-Thars that might help them better understand what so many Stars-On-Thars have been experiencing."