President Barack Obama's first extended comments Friday about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial were significant because they validated African-Americans' claims of widespread profiling, according to guests interviewed on the Daily Circuit.
Kelli Goff, a columnist for The Root, said her white friends seem to think that such perceptions result from paranoia, not reality.
On Friday, Obama said African-Americans might have reacted as they did to the confrontation between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin because they know what it's like to be followed through a store, or to hear car doors being locked when they approach. "That includes me," he said. "Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida."
"There were a lot of people who heard him give those remarks whose reaction was, 'That has happened to the president?' And that's why it was significant," Goff said. "There were a lot of people ... who thought there was a measure of paranoia that we as African-Americans were operating under in reaction to the verdict and in reaction to the events that night.
"And when the president of the United States says, 'I had to become a senator to stop being followed around in department stores,' it recognizes racial profiling not as an African-American problem but as an American problem."
And many black Americans had been waiting impatiently for Obama to make such remarks, said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor at Duke University.
"I don't think Tavis Smiley was wrong necessarily when he said that the president was shoved to the podium on Friday in order to make this statement," Neal said. "I think he was also partially shoved by the women he shares the house with."
That drew a laugh from Goff, who said that "on more than one occasion I've written that I think Michelle Obama would make a tougher president than her husband ... I've certainly had conversations with friends and family members, like 'What is Michelle saying right now?'
"Michelle Obama was raised in a very predominantly black community, in a black family that's used to dealing with these issues, on the South Side of Chicago. Some of this is an endless debate when it comes to the president and race. ... He wasn't raised around a lot of black people, he wasn't raised in a place with lots of racial strife. I sometimes think that our antenna goes up a little more quickly on some of this stuff than his does."
Neal recalled a 2008 "60 Minutes" interview when Michelle Obama was asked whether she was concerned her husband might be assassinated. She replied that she was concerned just at the thought of him stopping at a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes. "She was very real about the kind of random violence that black men are dealing with in the context of society."
In a separate interview, NPR political editor Ken Rudin said that Obama's remarks on Friday marked "the first time he's gotten so personal." He said Obama had always been "reticent to talk about race, and when he did, it was not as an African-American. It was as a president."
From Day One, this was never about a black president," he said. "It was about a president who happened to be black."
"In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict and the reaction to Trayvon Martin's death, it became personal," Rudin said. "As a black man, he explained to basically white America why African Americans were angry about the verdict."