Think about this for a moment: our country’s first African American President is the one several Native American leaders have called the best in our history when it comes to addressing their concerns. Is there a connection between those two things?
I am reminded of the criticisms some Black leaders leveled against the President for his commencement address at Morehouse College a couple of years ago. Their issue was that when he called on these young Black men to be good fathers, President Obama was engaging in “respectability politics.” But what they missed was that he was asking them to embrace something MUCH bigger than being responsible fathers.
As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.
So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need. If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy — the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you’re not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple. It should give you the ability to connect. It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers.
So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern — to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table.
It’s clear that President Obama was talking about his own experience as an “outsider” and how that has given him a natural empathy for others (i.e., Native Americans) who have been marginalized. He uses that empathy to widen his own circle of concern – or as he said during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech – expand his moral imagination.
That is also exactly what David Simon suggested will be required of our leaders going forward.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.