When President Obama on Fridayto the shooting of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman's subsequent trial, he was speaking to both black Americans and white Americans, Gwen Ifill of PBS' NewsHour and Washington Week, said during the panel discussion on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
After a Florida jury acquitted Zimmerman, "there was anguish, an anguish that a lot of white Americans didn't understand," Ifill said. The president, she said, "was speaking to African Americans saying, 'I get what you get.' And he was speaking to white Americans, trying to explain. It was a new role for him."
The president's remarks on Friday were some of the most extensive of his presidency on the subject of race, and they were very personal. He spoke about the sort of negative experiences that are common for young African-American men -- some of which he said he has personally experienced. "There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping at a department store, and that includes me," he said. "Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida."
David Ignatius of the Washington Post called it "an honest speech on many different levels," adding, "I thought it showed a kind of leadership that so often with this reticent president, I felt was missing."
At the same time, said Michael Scherer of Time magazine, Mr. Obama is "very aware of his own limits in pushing national conversation forward."
Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal said he doesn't expect the president to make a habit of turning to his personal experiences to help drive forward a national dialogue on race. "He doesn't want to be the African-American president, he wants to the president who is African American," he said. "I think he wants to pick the right spots."
Scherer the next step for the African-American community is moving from a conversation about race to achieving results for the community. "You talk to pastors in the black churches, there is a lot of enthusiasm right now for really seizing this moment to do that," he said.