Barely a month into his tenure as Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder famously stated that in America, when it comes to issues of race, we are a “nation of cowards.” Of course at the time, he was widely ridiculed, jeered, and even in some extreme corners, accused himself of being racist. But in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the subsequent travesty, and the reflexive backlash to the President’s hauntingly personal and powerful perspectives on race, it’s time to finally own the fact, the Attorney General, was right.
When President Obama made the bold and courageous decision to share his personal perspectives on the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict, he most assuredly did so knowing he would face swift and aggressive blow-back. And he was right. Even before his remarks were completed, vulgar rants on the right were exchanged by those who never seem to miss a stop on the Bash-Obama train. Not to be outdone, the “He Ain’t as Black as Me” crew chimed in as well, led by the perpetually jealous–um, I mean, consistently salty, Tavis Smiley. Lost on these and so many others is the sheer courage that it took to bring the mantle of the Presidency to a topic that millions refuse to even see. And further, to do so in a way that was raw, gritty, instructive, and painfully personal, displays the type of leadership that is not only rare in politics, but is rare in life.
In America, far too many of us have come to the collective cultural consensus, that if we don’t speak it, claim not to see it, and certainly, refuse to hear it, than race somehow magically disappears. It simply vanishes into a world of irrelevancy. But like a cancer that spreads, silent, but deadly; until we see it, until we speak it, and until we act upon it, the impact of race will never be rendered fully benign.
Most assuredly, the road won’t be easy. America, has not only never really faced its hard truths, it has, in fact, consistently engaged in acts of denial. Lies, omission, and oblivion is easy. Truth-telling is hard. Yet, there is power in truth. Even when those truths are difficult. Even when those truths are rife with pain. And even when those truths force us to openly acknowledge the imperfections in our less than perfect union. Truth creates the space to be heard, and even more powerfully, to be believed.
It is this much needed, but painful process the President advanced by sharing his own personal reflections on the all-too common indignities suffered by the millions who share the external marker of Black skin. He made visible our lived reality, a world that’s been here all along, but one that most external to it refuse to see. In one fatal swoop, he placed the excuse of sheer ignorance off the table. Now, its up to the rest of us–all of us–to be courageous enough to advance the cause.