President Obama’s history with the politics of race — his own, and the way it is lived in this country — has been both beneficial and vexing over the course of his public life.
Racial identity was at the heart of his best-selling memoir, commissioned after he was elected the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review.
It helped distinguish him from more experienced Democrats in the 2008 presidential primaries, then nearly doomed his candidacy after his close relationship with a provocative black pastor was revealed. Once in the White House, his race often appeared to be as much a burden for him as an asset.
Now as he confronts public anger about the acquittal of George Zimmerman for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, Obama is being challenged again to meet the unique demands that come with being the nation’s first African American president.
Obama’s handling of the verdict’s aftermath reflects some of the hard-learned lessons of the past four years. Rather than criticism, he has chosen a tone of consolation, avoiding the issue of race directly to help cool the country down.
On Sunday afternoon, Obama issued a short statement asking “every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son,” a 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin.