Why Obama can't go there on race

Other observers note that the sheer passage of time itself has required a certain recalibration of the president’s response to such incidents.

“At this point, it’s inevitable,” said Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at the California State University Los Angeles and a student of the politics of race. “Being the first black president is like being the first black mayor times 1,000, and Tom Bradley always had to repeat, ‘I’m the mayor of L.A., not the black mayor of L.A.’ And he was judged very carefully in a city whose black population was about one and a half times the proportion of the U.S. as a whole.

“Both he and Obama share a natural affinity not to be particularly partisan, and yet both are deeply imbued with the black experience. But after a certain amount of time, I don’t think the president can be the healer in chief any more. It becomes more about the Department of Justice, and the attorney general, who also happens to be African-American, and these people need to be heard on this. I think you only get a certain shelf life for trying to walk between the black and white experience as president. There’s a certain point at which I think it’s too hard a burden to carry.”

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