Experiences inform

Obama made some remarks about race and context and experience and the criminal laws today.

Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida, and it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws.

That’s the “privilege” conversation. That conversation is not a reason to scream in panic and head for the hills. It’s not terrifying or disastrous to understand that people have different experiences and that sometimes your experiences result in your knowing less about a particular subject than other people’s experiences leave them. For instance, if you’re not black, your knowledge of what it’s like to experience being black is not as good as that of a person who is black. This is for some reason a very controversial thing to say, but I have a really hard time seeing why. How could your knowledge of what it’s like to experience being an X not be shaped by whether or not you are an X?

“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” Obama said at the White House on Friday. “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”

That’s what I’m saying. There’s a set of experiences and a history. That makes a difference. There is nothing surprising about that.

In fact, that’s one big reason equality is desirable, and inequality creates problems. If certain kinds of people are treated as marginal and suspect, then that becomes their experience and history, and that creates divisions. It’s not – contra the angry right wing – Obama talking about it that creates divisions, it’s the being treated as marginal and suspect that creates the divisions.

Think Progress gives us the top 12 conservative freakouts at Obama’s remarks, via (of course) Twitter. A Fox “News” hack is exemplary:

Obama’s comments today justify what I said on Hannity earlier this week. He truly is trying to tear our country apart.

Or stitch it together. One of those.



  1. machintelligence says

    I really wish I could believe that, had the races of the persons involved been reversed, the jury would have reached the same conclusion. But somehow I can’t.

  2. Francisco Bacopa says

    Today’s informal speech was made by the Obama I voted for.

    And seriously: I think a case of murder one could have been made against Zimmerman. He took a course in Florida self defense law. In his 911 call he said “these fuckers always get away”. He dreamed of killing and planned to kill.

    The shooting death of Trayvon Martin was a straight-up lynching. Yeah, a lynching, just for being black and buying candy and soft drinks. Anyone who says otherwise is an an asshole who dreams of killing a ni**er. I am sad to say my own brother is such an asshole.

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    But our experiences are not untainted by the cultural baggage we bring to them.

    What about the ‘experiences’ of Zimmerman? I’m sure his ‘experience’ supported the notion that ‘these fuckers always get away.’ That he ‘experienced’ such a notion doesn’t make it less wrong.

    Trayvon shouldn’t be dead, Zimmerman should not be walking loose, Florida should not have insane gun laws, armed ‘volunteers’ should not be anywhere near actual police. No one needs to claim ‘special’ experience to grasp these notions.

    Yes, black Americans have an ambient level of irritation and fear that goes with living in this particular society. That does not absolve them of the belligerent, conspiracy theory driven, hyper-macho culture that kills hundreds of young men every year. Mostly at the hands of other young, Black men.

    Martin/Zimmerman is a big enough issue without being made to stand-in for EVERY racial anguish that inflicts the nation.

  4. says

    True. But then “listen” doesn’t mean “agree with.” It’s possible to listen to marginalized points of view and then disagree with some or all of them. It’s possible to listen to marginalized points of view and get a better understanding of where they come from, while nevertheless disagreeing with their truth claims.

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