Obama, race, and the melting pot that is America

Updated
By Michael Smerconish
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the Trayvon Martin case in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, July 19, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the Trayvon Martin case in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, July 19, 2013.
Larry Downing/Reuters

The president gave an important speech today about race.

A little more than five years ago, I was in the room at the National Constitution Center when Senator Obama gave a similarly serious address.

This son of Eastern European stock was anxious to hear the remarks of the man who self-described as “the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.”

I was driven to the speech by my radio producer, a Mayflower-bred, Harvard-educated, Main Line mom, driving - what else - a Volvo wagon.

Afterwards, in the parking lot, she got into a fender bender.

The parked car she hit had a Puerto Rican flag hanging from the rearview mirror.

A parking attendant responded. He was a black man wearing a bow tie and speaking with an African accent. I heard him tell my WASP-y producer she couldn’t leave the lot until his manager arrived.

Just then I saw a Latino man with close-cropped hair and low-hanging jeans cross the lot and upon seeing the damage to his 2007 Suzuki, he was instantly anguished. “Manny” (as we later learned he was named) was understandably upset to learn what had happened in his absence.

An hour earlier, I’d been watching Barack Obama. Now, I was caught up in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm with more metaphors than I could keep track of.

Two blocks away after the speech, the lot attendant with the African accent returned to tell the WASP woman and the Puerto Rican man not to worry because his manager was en route. Sure enough, within a few minutes, a natty BMW pulled up and out popped “Mr. Tran,” the Asian supervisor who had come to sort out the unfolding drama.

All parties spoke civilly, cooperated, and parted company with handshakes all around. Which reminded me of something else I’d heard that day from Barack Obama:

“[W]e may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”

Obama, race, and the melting pot that is America

Updated