The "Sadly Naïve" Conservative Conversation About Race

Blog ››› ››› ARI RABIN-HAVT

Punctuated by the statement, "Trayvon Martin could've been me, 35 years ago," President Obama laid out his personal experiences as a black man in America July 19 in the White House briefing room.

There are very few African-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.  There are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

ObamaIn response, a group of white, male, and conservative media figures decided to lecture the nation's first black president as to why his own personal experiences with race in America were not genuine.

Commentator Ben Ferguson attempted to explain on CNN how all men, not just black men, evoke fear from women. Host Don Lemon called the conservative pundit "sadly naïve."

Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes accused the president of "trying to tear our country apart."

Ben Shapiro of tweeted: "Shorter Obama: Look at me! America is racist."

His colleague, Dr. Timothy Daughtry, wrote on July 21: "If Martin had been white, Zimmerman would have been portrayed in the media as the minority victim. Obama might have even said, 'If I had a son, he would look like George Zimmerman.' "

He went on to declare: "For Americans who see the world through a Judeo-Christian worldview, it is the content of one's character and not the color of one's skin that matters."

The conservative movement likes to fantasize that a world where decisions are based on the "content of one's character and not the color of one's skin" is already the reality and no longer just a dream Dr. King asked Americans to strive for.

Conservatives do not just reject the president's personal narrative; they also deny all those who have faced discrimination the right to their own experiences.

The same voices that declare the president's story illegitimate also dismiss those with stories to tell about voter disenfranchisement at the hands of laws designed to solve the nonexistent problem of voter fraud. Those who face a racially imbalanced criminal justice system are also ignored. And any attempt to correct generations of economic imbalance caused by structural racism are further shunted to the side.

While it is shockingly offensive that a cohort of white male pundits would deny the president ownership over his own story, it also exemplifies the core ignorance  embedded in the conservative media's reaction to conversations about race.

Skin color doesn't matter as much if you come from a position of privilege, which I am able to write from a position of privilege. If you've never had to experience the pain of discrimination based on the pigmentation of your skin cells, it's easier to ignore or even criticize black Americans' personal experiences.

Posted In
Race & Ethnicity
Trayvon Martin
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