In a classic case of false equivalence, the Washington Post writes that in a recent viral video, an African American youth named CJ Pearson “shredded” the president over the decision to invite Ahmed Mohammed to the White House. Mohammed brought a clock to school and was arrested on the pretext that it was a “hoax bomb.” Pearson went on to criticize the president for lighting up the White House in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court issued its decision upholding the right for gays to marry and alleged that the president had encouraged the shooting of police officers. Pearson concludes by accusing the president of being “incompetent.” Bold words for a thirteen-year-old.
In one sense, I admire this young man and his presumption. At thirteen years old, he issued a trenchant critique of the president’s actions, which, however flawed, was more polished than many adults could muster. It comes as no surprise that he has 35,000 Twitter followers, is a conservative darling, and no doubt has a bright future ahead of him. Moreover, he has the courage to swim against the tide of public opinion. However, in addition to his marked lack of respect for his elders – the president in particular – he also misses the point.
Pearson asks mockingly in the manner that only a thirteen-year-old can what the president’s priorities are. But the president’s priorities are clear. They are the same priorities that led Congressman John Lewis to get his head cracked open on the Pettus Bridge, that led Ruby Bridges to walk through a hostile white crowd to go to school, the same priorities that got three little girls killed in a Birmingham Church, and for which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life. In inviting Ahmed Mohammed to visit, in lighting up the White House, the president is standing up for the same values of freedom and equality that we so often express and so seldom live up to in this country. He is taking a stand against bigotry and discrimination.
Pearson is either fortunate or naïve to the think that he is exempt from the kind of discrimination which killed Eric Garner and Freddy Gray, that pushed Ferguson and Baltimore to the breaking point, and that has resulted in the massive incarceration of young black men across the country. Hence his cheap shots at the Black Lives Matter protesters. He has apparently no concern that one day he might be denied a job or a house or a loan or arrested and imprisoned for no reason other than the color of his skin. And if it were not for the bravery of the thousands who have fought for civil rights in this country – the same tradition that the president has honored – CJ Pearson would not have a platform today.
Pearson might also benefit from spending a little more time on his homework and less time in front of his video camera. He lambastes the president for allegedly egging on the murders of police officers, a charge that is not merely outrageous but also clearly false. The same publication that celebrates Pearson’s critique has also documented the fact that police murders this year are at an historic low. And while victims of murder everywhere deserve our sincere sympathy and condolences, the president is not the comforter in chief, as Pearson seems to think.
The bottom line is that while his record is imperfect, the president has shown leadership on civil rights. While a thirteen-year-old kid with a video camera might not recognize it, one could be excused for thinking that the nation’s capital’s newspaper of record might.