Calls for President Obama to respond to black-on-black violence are seeping into the edges of popular culture.
The Friday night bar-fight death of Ashley “A.J.” Jewell, the fiancé of one of Bravo’s “Atlanta Housewives,” may add fuel to those calls, especially as Mr. Jewell is likely to posthumously appear on the wildly popular reality TV show in coming weeks.
Before that news broke Friday night, Fox News host Juan Williams, sitting in for Bill O’Reilly, chastised President Obama for not publicly addressing the violent beating death of a Chicago high school honors student, which was captured on tape and shown nationwide.
“When I think about what's going on in the streets of urban America, brother, it hurts my heart, and to sit here and not say we've got to do something as adults in room” is wrong, Mr. Williams said.
The violent undertones of black America, where nearly half of all murders in America took place last year (the black population is 13 percent of the US total), is the real place to begin a conversation on race, the Rev. Eugene Rivers told the Fox News audience.
“It’s a shame at best and a moral asymmetry for [President Obama] to be silent on the death of this young child and not use this teachable moment to begin a national conversation about a scourge of this country: black on black crime,” the Rev. Rivers, a fiery and controversial pastor from Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, said on the O’Reilly Show.
To be sure, Obama has waded carefully and, in the case of Harvard Professor Henry Gates, nearly accidentally into the race debate -- potential quicksand for a historic president who is uncomfortable drawing attention to the issue as chief executive of a diverse country.
The president held a “beer summit” this summer with Prof. Gates and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, who had arrested Gates for disorderly conduct outside Gates’ home. The arrest sparked weeks of controversy fueled when Obama, at a press conference, seemed to accept Gates’ version of the events.
Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, has gone further, calling America "essentially a nation of cowards" for its failure to talk openly about race.
On Friday’s O’Reilly show, Leo Terrell, a civil rights attorney, called Rivers’ comparison of the President’s silence on the Chicago beating and the “beer summit” a “false analogy.”
“I question the Reverend’s motivations [in saying that Obama should address black-on-black violence] simply because Obama's skin shares the same color as ours,” Mr. Terrell said. (Mr. Williams, Mr. Terrell, and Mr. Rivers are all black.) It’s not a black issue, he added, but “an America issue.”
Atlanta Housewives is arguably the trashiest, but also the most watched, version of Bravo’s popular glimpse into the fabulous -- and fashionably tragic -- day to day habits of upscale housewives in America.
But though it may not reflect the actual “reality” of life in Atlanta, the show’s depiction of at least a sub-group of rich African-Americans (the show has one white cast member) has also humanized the black experience. It’s the most popular of the Housewives series, drawing over 2 million viewers a week.
In the end, however, the thorny issue of black-on-black violence in America -- whether epitomized by Chicago school kids or reality TV show extras -- may be too raw and polarizing for Obama to wade into.
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