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Why Bill de Blasio is Allowed to Talk About Race in a Way President Obama Cannot

Bill De Blasio Sworn In As New York City Mayor

For me, the past few weeks have been marked by anger, guilt, sadness, and disappointment. In 2007, I hoped (naively perhaps) that the the election of Barack Obama would make it possible to discuss the realities of race in the United States. In him, I saw myself. A mixed-race child of an American and an immigrant, I was inspired by his speeches and comments regarding his American experience. He spoke of loving family who gave voice to terrible prejudices and enduring the pain of silently swallowing such bigotry and feeling the guilt of not speaking up. He spoke of being native to two worlds, while never truly feeling comfortable in either. His was an American from my own perspective; an America of my generation.

And yet, he has had to fall silent. Don’t get me wrong, the President speaks out about race in the U.S. in ways that makes people confront the racism in their hearts. However, what he said to us after the killing of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and after continuing the dehumanizing campaign of drone strikes against brown people abroad reflects very little of that picture of America he once spoke about. What he offered feels tired, emotionless, and scripted.

I believe he is not entirely to blame for this. Perhaps American racism has become tired, emotionless, and scripted. I thought about exploring why Bill de Blasio (the father of mixed-race children) could speak about race in a way the President could not; however, Ta-Nehisi Coates beat me to it. I couldn’t say it more precisely that he did in this article.

Allan Branstiter is a writer and Ph.D. student studying U.S. History at the University of Southern Mississippi. Currently residing in Los Angeles, California, he is writing a dissertation examining the experiences of Civil War veterans in the American West. He is a veteran of the Iraq War and a former candidate for the North Dakota State Senate.

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