Aisha Harris in Slate:
On Friday, as much of the country rejoiced at the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, and Charleston, South Carolina, continued to mourn its dead, President Obama delivered what may go down as his most impassioned, biting, and unambiguous statement on race since being elected into office. This statement was, unfortunately, delivered by way of a eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina state senator and reverend who was murdered last week, along with eight others, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by Dylann Roof, a white supremacist. But what started out as a moving celebration of the life of Pinckney (“Preacher by 13. Pastor by 18. Public servant by 23—what a life [he] lived.”)soon morphed into a rousing, mesmerizing political sermon, one in which Obama tackled pretty much all of the controversial angles that have intersected in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre: the confederate flag. Gun control. Systemic racism.
Obama was in the zone. Bit by bit, he unfurled the long strands of history—“bombs, arson, shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means to control”—that have, in their own ways, led to the shooting: “[Roof] sensed the meaning of his violent act,” he said, emphatically. He spoke, in the eloquent and fervent nature of a preacher, about the emotional and symbolic resistance of the past week, even as families and friends of the deceased grieve. Roof couldn’t fathom “how the United States of America would respond not merely with repulsion at this act, but with generosity and more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in the public eye.” He called out the Confederate flag for what it truly is, “a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.” He alluded to the Newtown, Connecticut, and the Colorado movie theater shootings, and reminded us of the “30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every day.” But most astounding was the way he talked about the less obvious, more pervasive aspects of racism in this country. “Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize,” he said. “So that we are guarding against not racial slurs but also going against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.”