Opinion: Obama’s shining ‘If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon’ moment


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‘If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.’

With those 10 simple words, President Obama said so much on Friday.

Obama was at the White House -- introducing his nominee to take over as World Bank president -- when he was asked by a reporter to address the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

He also offered this somewhat stock comment:

‘I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.’


Any president could have -- probably would have -- said that.

But it doesn’t have the power of the ‘if I had a son’ remark, or this:

‘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.’

Never before has the killing of a young black man been quite so personal to one of our presidents.

Oh, we’ve had presidents who did great things for civil rights -- Lyndon B. Johnson, for example.

But this is different. And it’s one of the reasons that Obama’s presidency is so historic, and so important to the United States.

Trayvon Martin is far from the first young black man to be killed in murky circumstances. The Times has reported on the troubling history of black residents and police in Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place. And The Times’ editorial board weighed in on Florida’s so-called stand your ground law, which may have played a role in this and a number of other shootings labeled self-defense in that state.

No, what makes this death notable is that this time our president -- and his children -- look like the victim. Heck, in other circumstances -- easily imagined circumstances, in fact -- one of them could have been the victim.

Obama did not judge anyone with his comments, did not label anyone. But when this president says, ‘I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen’ --– well, yes, any president could have said that, but there’s a little something extra there.


The United States can be proud of the advances it has made in civil rights. Racism is nowhere near as overt and pervasive today.

But, of course, it’s still there.

Only now, when our president speaks out about it, it’s, well, personal.

And that’s why it doesn’t really matter if Obama is just a one-term president, or if he achieves little in terms of legislative triumphs.

Because of him, we as a nation will never be quite the same. In electing Obama, we have looked racism in the eye and said ‘no.’

And that’s a great thing.


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