President Barack Obama gave unscheduled remarks at a White House briefing on Friday, speaking candidly about issues of race in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict handed down last week.
His deeply personal comments covered his own experience of being an African-American man in America, including personal anecdotes about being racially profiled earlier in his life. Obama argued that controversy over the Zimmerman trial, in which he was ultimately acquitted in the 2012 killing of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, had emerged due to a painful “set of experiences and a history” that the black community has faced.
Read the transcript below, or watch the video above:
But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator.
There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And, you know, I — I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.
And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.