Obama on Trayvon Martin:

Acknowledging "Pain" to Uphold Oppression

July 28, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On July 19, Barack Obama delivered a second public response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman verdict. He said, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." He acknowledged "a lot of pain around what happened here." And he spoke—in a very limited way—to some of the indignity, outrage, injustice, and pain experienced by African-Americans. As such, his speech was seen by many who have been outraged by what has been exposed in the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer as a remarkable and unique event in U.S. history.

But when you break down what Obama said, and where he went with all this, the acknowledgement of some manifestations of white supremacy was in the service of upholding, seeking to shore up, and strengthen the system that historically, and today, enforces the oppression of Black people with a vengeance.

Deep Anger

Originally, after the verdict, Obama issued a statement calling for "calm reflection." But the trial of George Zimmerman reeked with such a stench of racism—from jury selection to closing arguments to what was getting said on TV and posted in social networks—that it aroused broad and deep outrage and protest. And beyond that, profound questioning of the nature of this society.

As President of the United States, Barack Obama is the overseer of an empire that enslaves billions in child labor in India, deathtrap sweatshops in Bangladesh, and capitalist plantations in Latin America. That installs death-squad regimes and tortures people at Guantánamo. That is destroying the environment, that locks up more people in its prisons than any other nation on earth, and has produced a culture where no woman anywhere in the world can walk down a street without fear of vicious assault.

Obama would have preferred that his first response to the verdict, preaching "calm reflection," would have chilled people out. But as it has turned out, the cut is too deep, the anger too intense, and the credibility of this system stretched too thin for that. Society is sharply divided, with those outraged by the injustice of the "not guilty" verdict refusing to accept this profoundly unjust verdict.

It's not a "narrative"—it's a reality!

In his speech, after listing a few examples of racism, Obama said, "I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida."

A reader wrote to Revolution off of that:

"NO, Mr. Obama—this is not a fucking narrative or lens through which millions of people are interpreting the situation—this is the legal lynching of a young Black man—The Not Guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case slammed home the legacy of centuries of slavery and said it's OK to lynch Black youth in America. This is the reality that millions of people have been living under for hundreds of years, and it is the reality that millions more are opening their eyes to today because of what this verdict concentrated."

This is an important point in terms of how people understand and act on reality: there IS reality. While the experience of different nationalities within the U.S. is in fact starkly different, it flows out of one underlying reality, shared by all people in this country. The fact that a large section of relatively privileged people in this society are shielded from the grinding oppression imposed on tens of millions in the inner cities of the U.S., and beyond, does not mean such oppression doesn't exist!

The verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case jolted significant sections of people out of a state of denial or acceptance about the situation Black and Latino people—especially youth—face in America 2013. People broadly are posing or questioning whether, despite all the pronouncements that with the election of Obama this is a "post-racial" society, things really haven't progressed since the days when Emmett Till was lynched in 1955.

No "Expectations" for Justice

At a moment when millions have demanded Justice!, Obama's response can be summed up as "No justice."

Obama made clear that it is very unlikely there will be any further government attempts at any level to prosecute Zimmerman: "I think it's important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels."

Obama talked about better training for law enforcement "to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists." But people do NOT need to trust in a system that is gunning down and locking up the youth. People need revolution to get rid of a system that forces Black parents to try to figure out whether to tell their children to not walk too fast or not walk too slow, so as not to be murdered by police or even some racist vigilante!

Obama obliquely referred to the "historical context" that gives rise to a high level of youth violence directed against each other, but he did NOT talk about the SYSTEM that has given rise to the incredible levels of unemployment in the Black community, the terrible schools, and the pipeline from those schools straight into America's bursting-at-the-seams prisons, with over a million Black and Latino people locked up and millions more either under the control of the penal system or else stigmatized for at one time having been locked up.

Obama talked about how to "bolster and reinforce our African-American boys" and give them "the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them"—without ever even touching on WHY they might not feel this way, and covering over the fact that you can convene roundtables and "partnerships" until throats are sore from talking and butts are sore from sitting and it will not do anything that can really alleviate the horrible situation of NO FUTURE faced by the millions and millions of these youth, here in the belly of the American Empire.

We Don't Need a "More Perfect Union" of Oppression, We Need Revolution

Obama ended his talk by telling people we need to continue on the journey towards a "more perfect union."

Millions are correctly outraged by the whole way the murder of Trayvon Martin went down, the way it was justified by the INjustice system, and all the ugly manifestations of white supremacy revealed through that. That outrage is very correct, to say the least! But the solution to that deeply embedded oppression will never be found in the framework of the present system and all the mythology invoked to justify it. That "more perfect union" has evolved from one horrific form of oppression of Black people to another—slavery, Jim Crow, and today the New Jim Crow.

We don't need to "perfect" that union, or this system. We need revolution. Right now that means continuing, broadening, and intensifying struggle against this bitterly unjust verdict and all the weight and horror it carries... and it means continuing, broadening, and intensifying the struggle over what and how people think... how they are processing this all, and getting people ready for what can actually uproot and eliminate all this: REVOLUTION.

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