President Obama speaks last week about race in the context of George Zimmerman's… (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images )
A letter to the editor by Cecelia Kennelly-Waeschle and Cliff Waeschle of Beverly Hills touched a nerve with readers. Published Wednesday, the letter called President Obama's reflections on race after the George Zimmerman verdict — in which he said victim Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago — "off base."
More than a dozen readers responded, none of them in agreement. Most said the writers were wrong to cite the president's privileged upbringing in multicultural Hawaii and Martin's less enviable circumstances as a Florida teenager "struggling through public high school" as an argument against the comparison. Some said the letter writers were wrong even to say Obama was comparing himself to Martin.
Here is a selection of those responses.
Joyce Perkins of Los Angeles says background matters little when it comes to prejudice:
"The letter writers miss the point when they say the lives of President Obama and Trayvon Martin do not come close to comparison.
"In spite of their different social and educational backgrounds, Obama and Martin faced similar hurdles because they shared the same skin color. The fact that Obama was raised in multicultural Hawaii by white grandparents and educated in elite schools did not prevent him from being followed in stores or having doors locked when he walked down the street, just like other African American males.
"Obama could have been Martin because they are both black."
Malibu resident Jill Simons shares her experience growing up in Beverly Hills:
"I was born and raised in Beverly Hills. There was a small population of wealthy African American families with whom I went to elementary and high school.
"Trust me when I tell you my black friends were racially profiled back in the 1970s and '80s. These guys couldn't walk or drive in the neighborhood they grew up in without being pulled over by the police.
"It makes little difference if your mom is white (as Obama's was), if you are lucky enough to have a great education or even if you are blessed to grow up in one of the most famous ZIP Codes in America. If your skin is brown or black, you will experience some hardship."
Robert J. Switzer of West Hollywood references Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream:
"The Beverly Hills letter writers who criticized Obama for making, in their view, a false comparison glaringly missed the president's point.
"What Obama clearly explained is that those who don't know him and others who are perceived to be of African descent are still judged first by their racial appearance — that we have yet to achieve Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that children 'will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.'
"Regardless of a child's family background and education, one's right to walk down a public street without being accosted by an overzealous, armed, self-appointed law enforcer should be unquestioned."
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