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Trayvon Martin ObamaEarlier today, I publicly asked the question, “If Trayvon Martin’s mother were white, would she get a phone call from President Barack Obama?”

The fact that people were so offended by the question told me that, in their hearts, they already know the answer.

Sandra Fluke was a woman who endured the humiliation of being called a “slut” by radio show host Rush Limbaugh, who made the unfortunate remarks after Fluke testified before congress in favor of her reproductive rights.  The smear led to a call from President Barack Obama, who served to soften the blow of Limbaugh’s unfair attack.

Trayvon Martin was murdered in cold blood by a self-appointed night watchman who thought that black males “look suspicious.”  Thus far, there has been no call from President Obama, although the president has made a statement (read below) on the matter:

Question:    Mr. President, may I ask you about this current case in Florida, very controversial, allegations of lingering racism within our society — the so-called do not — I’m sorry — Stand Your Ground law and the justice in that?  Can you comment on the Trayvon Martin case, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m the head of the executive branch, and the Attorney General reports to me so I’ve got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we’re not impairing any investigation that’s taking place right now.

But obviously, this is a tragedy.  I can only imagine what these parents are going through.  And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.  And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.

So I’m glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the governor of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what’s taking place.  I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.  And that means that examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.

But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin.  If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.  And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

Thank you.

The president deserves credit for making this statement, since he didn’t have to say anything at all. His remark about the fact that his son would look like Trayvon was a subtle reference to race, sending the kind of political smoke signals through the back door that African Americans have come to expect and accept from their president.

The Black community is fully willing to trust the Obama Administration’s assessment of complex political calculus in the same way a young Mother listens to a teacher explain the fancy charts showing that her son has a learning disorder.  We don’t always understand the process, but we believe that Obama’s understanding supersedes our own, and we trust that our interests are in alignment with the president.

President Barack Obama must tread carefully on the Trayvon Martin matter.  President Obama, who once found it necessary to intervene in an otherwise meaningless interaction between a Harvard Professor and a police officer, is now being looked to for leadership as the nation deals with a divide that has brought racial tension to the brink of total chaos.

This is likely the point where President Obama channels his inner Abraham Lincoln. Obama referenced Lincoln while giving a classic speech in response to controversial words from his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.   He was seeking to be the middle man, the guy who makes Whites feel comfortable and still speaks politely about some of the challenges of being Black.  He has, thus far, been able to successfully walk the tightrope of racial inequality for most of his life; that’s why he’s the president and I’m not.

But there comes a time when lines are drawn in the sand.   A man can’t bring his wife and mistress in the same room and tell them both that they are first in his heart.  Americans who want justice for Trayvon Martin are looking for President Obama to share their pain, to make a stronger statement about racial injustice or to show that he truly does lie in the tradition of great Black men before him who stood their ground (pun intended) when Black men and women were being lynched.

But this is where it gets sticky.

You see, historically, the job of the commander-in-chief has been, among other things, to maintain law and order in the United States. Part of maintaining order meant keeping Black folks calm and controlled, even if by force.  One has to wonder how President Obama will respond if riots break out as a result of justice not being served for Trayvon?   Additionally, President Obama is just as White as he is Black, but White Americans run this country, politically and otherwise.  So, the preservation of White privilege via inaction against systematic racism is one of the things that America comes to expect from its leaders.

Both White and Black Americans are watching the president with a careful eye.  African Americans who’ve stood by Obama through thick and thin may have a hard time giving him yet another day off on the Black agenda.  The excuses that others used for President Obama’s lack of response in the cases of Troy Davis, Oscar Grant, and others may end up running dry. This is the moment where even moderate and conservative African Americans may look to their president to share in their collective pain and outrage.

I’m sure the president’s advisers have crafted a strategy for dealing with the Trayvon Martin situation.  Unfortunately, most of his advisers aren’t Black and the only Black person in his camp who might actually understand any of this is Michelle Obama.   It will be interesting to see how the president responds, for Trayvon Martin has clearly become the big Black elephant in the White House.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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