Grandstanding Sloppiness Doesn’t Help

This week has been an emotional roller-coaster. I can’t recall the last time I felt such crushing sadness about a public event, about the death of someone I never knew. I range from anger about George Zimmerman’s acquittal to deep sadness that Trayvon Martin is not still alive and well and preparing to go to college. Words don’t always flow easily when they are wrapped in powerful emotions.

President Obama released a brief statement last weekend when the verdict was announced, basically calling on everyone to accept the verdict and the legitimacy of the judicial system. Then he remained silent during much of the week. When he did speak to the Trayvon Martin shooting again, he did so with blunt and heartfelt words.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.
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There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
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We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
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We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys…
-quoted from boston.com

President Obama is a thoughtful, methodical person, and he has a lot to do. So it is not surprising that it would take time for him to formulate his thoughts about the whole Trayvon tragedy before actually speaking publicly. As I said, it’s been a hard week. But when he did speak out, he did so with conviction and the authority granted him by his position, his own personal history, and the history of those like him.

The President basically explained a bit about what it is like to grow up African-American in the United States. And as other commentators have noted, he is the first president who can speak about such issues using the first person. The last quote I took from his statement, about needing to help our African-American boys, really struck a cord with me. Because I have always hoped that his presidency, if nothing else, would shine as a beacon for a population that is often despised and irrationally feared, sometimes with deadly consequences.

So I have nothing but praise for President Obama’s remarks. Not everyone feels that way, of course, and that’s to be expected. I don’t take exception to that, per se. What I do take exception to is sloppiness and grandstanding.

Writer Rich Benjamin committed both sins, and probably a host of others, in his hastily crafted article on President Obama’s Trayvon Martin remarks that was published by Salon. Entitled “Obama’s safe, overrated and airy speech,” he criticizes the President for only contextualizing the “pain” felt by the African-American community and not providing “a meaningful opinion on the episode’s hot molten core: racial profiling, vigilantism, and ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws.”

What? OK, show me some examples.

Oops! File not found.

Mr. Benjamin fails to cite any of President Obama’s speech. Not one line. Seriously. Now, I have the benefit of writing this piece after a full transcript of the remarks became available. Mr. Benjamin’s pieces was originally posted at 1:30 pm PDT on Friday, July 19, 2013. This would be just a few hours after the President spoke, thus I’m sure a transcript was not likely available, especially since the President spoke extemporaneously.

But come on, man! Don’t you have access to a DVR or something where you can backtrack and extract some of the language yourself? If you didn’t, than you should have waited until you could get the President’s words verbatim so that you could include it as examples of what you’re talking about. You can’t make an assertion and then fail to give examples of your assertion. That’s sloppy.

But it gets worse. President Obama’s remarks are just the MacGuffin for what Mr. Benjamin really wanted to write about: his contention that Attorney General Eric Holder is more willing to speak “truth to power” when it comes to race and other issues than the President.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered trenchant thoughts on the acquittal, demanding action. Before an audience of supporters, Holder recently called for a full investigation of Martin’s death after Zimmerman’s acquittal.
-quoted from Salon.com

Mr. Benjamin fails to state where or when this speech by Mr. Holder was given — citing sources seems to be problem for him — though I expect he was referring to Mr. Holder’s address to the NAACP during their national convention this past week in Orlando, Florida.  Mr. Holder did indeed give a very powerful speech, one worthy of thoughtful analysis by itself. Unfortunately, this isn’t Mr. Benjamin’s agenda, either.

Instead, he uses Mr. Holder to bash President Obama, essentially, for not being black enough.

Some of us have an Inner Child. Others have an Inner Nigger. Is Holder the president’s conscience? Or his Inner Nigger?

N-bombs, like F-bombs or any other incendiary language, have to be deployed with great care. The writer has to have a really, really good reason for using such language to make the point s/he is trying to make, otherwise the piece is at risk of being overshadowed by the bomb. What was Mr. Benjamin’s point in dropping the N-bomb in his piece? It’s hard to say. The context simply isn’t clear. It’s usage, therefore, appears gratuitous, a tool for generating chatter and page clicks. Again, that’s sloppy.

He goes on to write that President Obama is wise to avoid discussing racial issues, including those surrounding the Trayvon Martin case, because doing so “tarnishes his political capital.” Well, OK, but if you look at the quotes I pulled above, can one truly make the claim that the President avoided discussing race? I don’t see that. Again, Mr. Benjamin does not back up his claim with examples.

The N-bomb is not the most offensive part of this piece.  The sloppiness is. Mr. Benjamin fails to state a clear thesis, fails to give examples, and fails to connect all of this to the larger context of the Trayvon Martin murder and the subsequent acquittal of his murderer George Zimmerman. In an addendum to his piece, reacting to the criticism it has received, he tosses around DuBois and the idea of double consciousness without providing adequate support or explanation. It’s all basically a hodgepodge.

Some folks when they write things like this pick and chose quotes carefully so as to reinforce their arguments. Mr. Benjamin didn’t even bother to do that. As I read his essay multiple times, I got the feeling that he really did not watch the speech at all, or that he watched only a portion of it, then hurriedly wrote out his piece so that he could claim “first” status. First does not always mean best.

Whatever Rich Benjamin’s agenda, it does not appear to include accuracy or a clear presentation of ideas. That’s an insult to the reader. I find that offensive. Finally, it is an insult to Trayvon Martin and the circumstances of his untimely death. And that I find highly offensive.  This is not the time to detract from the serious debates the Trayvon Martin murder brings to light. Now is the time to speak about them clearly and honestly, without grandstanding.

© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.


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