American Sons: President Obama and Trayvon Martin

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." -President Barack Obama

"What the president said is disgraceful. It's not a question of what the young man looked like. At some point we need to talk about being Americans." - Newt Gingrich

"I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly, not to let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodies are as responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as much as George Zimmerman was." - Geraldo Rivera

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Our President, because he is African American, acknowledged the rich and visual racial diversity of our nation, by mentioning the similarities of Trayvon Martin's appearance to his own. Newt Gingrich suggests there is something un-American about his doing that. Apparently to be "American" in the mind of Mr. Gingrich is to ignore the particularity of one's racial features and biological history. Mr. Gingrich in this instance seeks to "Americanize" President Obama by expecting the President to engage in "passing" (pretending to be white when one is not).

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an op-ed that appeared in the September 21, 2008 New York Times that was titled "The Push to 'Otherize' Obama". He wrote, "Here's a sad moment to the sleaziness of this presidential campaign: almost one-third of the voters 'know' that Barack Obama is a Muslim or believe that he could be."

I wonder if Newt Gingrich is engaging in a peculiar effort to "otherize" President Obama in his critical comment suggesting that the President should "Americanize"? There is a strangeness about these still early days of the 21st century, when there are those who believe that their definition and description of "American" is THE definition and description of what it means.

And then, we have the words of Geraldo Rivera that suggest some Americans must not dress in particular ways if they expect to remain safe.

I am not a fan of the writings of Rudyard Kipling but these paraphrased words from his poem "If" come to mind: If you can keep your head while others all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. You'll be an adult my son or daughter, you'll be an adult.

Sincerely, Gil Caldwell

p.s. I have just finished watching the MSNBC program of Melissa Harris-Perry. She put on the screen that picture of the little African American boy in the Oval Office of the White House with President Obama bending over to him because the little boy wanted to feel the texture of the President's hair. "Mr. Gingrich, although the texture of our President and the little boy's hair may be different from yours, theirs too, is 'American hair'".

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The above was excerpted from an open letter from Gil to United Methodist bishops, academicians, agencies, local pastors, racial/ethnic, conservative and progressive caucuses. Here is the introduction to his letter.

I have felt for some time that open and honest discussions about race, take place best in groups that have a history of being together for some time, trust, diversity of perspectives, and no need to engage in any form of one up-man-ship or self righteousness. Groups like these have developed ways of discussing and being and acting that do not create emotional responses and actions that hinder the future life of the group.

However we tend to believe that we best speak about race in groups that have been created to be intentionally racially inclusive. But, too often the limited history of such groups impedes helpful, candid and ongoing dialogue. It is obvious that we have made some magnificent changes in attitudes and practices regarding race in church and society, but there is evidence all around us that we too often have "changed without changing" much.

I share this with no pretense of having unique insights worthy of consideration. Nor, do I want my name attached to your discussions. This just represents another one of my unsolicited efforts to make a contribution to the denomination that has meant so much to me, my parents, and my grandparents. Never, never allow any "messenger" to get in the way of our wrestling with the often less-than-positive messages, hovering over us that must be addressed. We must talk about race, more so for our children and their children, than for ourselves. The United Methodist Church, as much as any denomination or institution, can begin to do what we must do about race in the 21st Century.