Welcome to DU! The truly grassroots left-of-center political community where regular people, not algorithms, drive the discussions and set the standards. Join the community: Create a free account Support DU (and get rid of ads!): Become a Star Member Latest Breaking News Editorials & Other Articles General Discussion The DU Lounge All Forums Issue Forums Culture Forums Alliance Forums Region Forums Support Forums Help & Search


(22,336 posts)
Fri Jun 19, 2015, 10:00 AM Jun 2015

New Yorker: Charleston and the Age of Obama


No small part of our outrage and grief—particularly the outrage and grief of African-Americans—is the way the Charleston murders are part of a larger picture of American life, in which black men and women, going about their day-to-day lives, have so little confidence in their own safety. One appalling event after another reinforces the sense that the country’s political and law-enforcement institutions do not extend themselves as completely or as fairly as they do for whites. In Charleston, the killer seemed intent on maximizing both the bloodshed and the symbolism that is attached to the act; the murder took place in a spiritual refuge, supposedly the safest of places. It was as if the killer wanted to underline the vulnerability of his victims, to emphasize their exposure and the racist nature of this act of terror.

Watching Obama deliver his statement Thursday about the Charleston murders, you couldn’t help but sense how submerged his emotions were, how, yet again, he was forced to slow down his own speech, careful not to utter a phrase that would, God forbid, lead him to lose his equanimity. I thought of that sentence of James Baldwin’s: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all of the time.” Obama’s statement also made me think of “Between the World and Me,” an extraordinary forthcoming book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which he writes an impassioned letter to his teen-age son—a letter both loving and full of a parent’s dread—counselling him on the history of American violence against the black body, the young African-American’s extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration.

Obama never affords himself the kind of raw honesty that you hear in the writings of Baldwin and Coates—or of Jelani Cobb and Claudia Rankine and so many others. Obama has a different job; he has different parameters. But, for all of his Presidential restraint, you could read the sadness, the anger, and the caution in his face as he stood at the podium; you could hear it in what he had to say. “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” he said. It was as if he could barely believe that he yet again had to find some language to do justice to this kind of violence. It seemed that he went further than usual. Above all, he insisted that mass killings, like the one in Charleston, are, in no small measure, political. This is the crucial point. These murders were not random or merely tragic; they were pointedly racist; they were political. Obama made it clear that the cynical actions of so many politicians—their refusal to cross the N.R.A. and enact strict gun laws, their unwillingness to combat racism in any way that puts votes at risk—have bloody consequences.

“We don’t have all the facts,” he said, “but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. … At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.” On race and politics, he was more subtle, but not stinting, either, lamenting the event’s connection to “a dark part of our history,” to events like the Birmingham church bombing, in 1963.
3 replies = new reply since forum marked as read
Highlight: NoneDon't highlight anything 5 newestHighlight 5 most recent replies
New Yorker: Charleston and the Age of Obama (Original Post) gollygee Jun 2015 OP
Excellent article... Spazito Jun 2015 #1
Thank you. This is an excellent essay. lamp_shade Jun 2015 #2
So true, so compellingly written frazzled Jun 2015 #3


(51,650 posts)
1. Excellent article...
Fri Jun 19, 2015, 10:15 AM
Jun 2015

A must-read, every word, imo.

"Nearly all of South Carolina was in mourning Thursday. Flags were at half-mast. Except the Confederate flag, of course, which flew high outside the building where Tillman still stands and the laws of the state are written."

The last paragraph sums it up, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose", the more it changes, the more it is the same thing.

Thank you for posting this.


(18,402 posts)
3. So true, so compellingly written
Fri Jun 19, 2015, 10:48 AM
Jun 2015

It's nearly impossible to imagine the daily fear and caution, and rage, that African American citizens still--unbelievably, still--endure in this country.

As for "the age of Obama," this is certainly true:

But the words attributed to the shooter are both a throwback and thoroughly contemporary: one recognizes the rhetoric of extreme reaction and racism heard so often in the era of Barack Obama. His language echoed the barely veiled epithets hurled at Obama in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns (“We want our country back!”) and the raw sewage that spewed onto Obama’s Twitter feed (@POTUS) the moment he cheerfully signed on last month. “We still hang for treason don’t we?” one @jeffgully49, who also posted an image of the President in a noose, wrote.

The sadness and anger the president felt was fully evident in his words yesterday, and especially in what he couldn't say. While those on the right will spew their racist invectives, many of us on the left will criticize him for being not "angry" enough. It is a testament to this president's, well, "presidentiality," that he recognizes he cannot compromise the status of the legal investigation and prosecution by openly and fully discussing the racial content of this criminal act. His words yesterday, though, did subtly and poetically allude to the long history of racism in this country, to which this attack was linked:

Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church. This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery.

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted church services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country in closer line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church's steps.

This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.
Latest Discussions»General Discussion»New Yorker: Charleston an...