A President has no choice, really. Not every President does it and few do it well. But that doesn't mean it's not a critical part of the job description: demonstrating leadership, cheerleading, team building, calls for unity, and yes, reminding us of our commonalities - all are vital components of a successful leader.
We need a leader who can try to bring us all together when things are falling apart and we are in a pretty scary place right now. So thank you for trying. “As painful as this week has been,” President Obama said, “I firmly believe that America is not as divided as some have suggested.”
But then the President goes on to say that the “demented” individual who committed this atrocity is no more representative of African Americans than white criminals are of white people or Muslim killers are of Islam. I agree, mostly.
One might ask themselves why people of color in this country sometimes have a strong desire to revolt, and not necessarily peacefully, against people who continue to abuse their class and race based privilege. Why some people break. Why people get frustrated when the rest of us neglect to work, daily and in all ways possible, to reduce the class and race based injustice that continues to persevere in the United States. And if we are honest, the things that we collectively embrace (the national anthem, the Apple Store, the Superbowl, and lattes) are probably insufficient to weather the storm of poverty, injustice, racism, and inequality.
So yes, it is laudable and worth ongoing mention that we have a lot in common and, generally speaking, do not create a war, riot, or violent protest every time something goes wrong. But there is foment smoldering and nothing can stop it other than a bigger change than the one we are making.
The frequency with which unarmed black men are getting shot by police is a symptom, not a cause. Homelessness, a lack of good paying middle class jobs, and the reality that the only promise we are willing to make is that we will house and feed and clothe every single American as long as they commit a crime. Otherwise, they are on their own. Then add eviction, brutality, and endemic societal racism. Focus your lens on these problems, these every day occurrences that are happening on our streets and in our cities; the brutal reality that faces literally countless families in our country. Then zoom the lens out, to the macro level, and focus on the unarmed black man who was killed last week, the one killed yesterday, and the one killed today. Or the steady stream of verdicts, one after another that mirror each unnecessary and unjust killing: not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.
Let us each put ourselves in these shoes for a moment and make an honest, real attempt to imagine the world from that perspective.
Violence only begets more violence and that will never be the answer. If someone is resorting to killing, there is something wrong with them, period. What if they have tried and tried and tried and simply cannot find a path to justice or equality for themselves, their family, their community, or their race. If things don’t change, will a growing number come to the same conclusion that they have no other choice, that the only way to create the change that is absolutely needed in our country, is to perpetuate the endless violence?
If we don’t want to find out, we may need to acknowledge that while our similarities are pretty special and worth noting, our differences are real and profound. And far too little is happening to ensure the former outweighs the latter.
Leadership, yes, absolutely, comes in the form of cheerleading. But it also comes in the form of saying that which is incredibly hard to say, but needs to be said. President Obama has done as much on this front as any President in a generation, but today, his comments were not enough. It’ll take more than words and a pom pom to heal these wounds.