During last night’s State of the Union remarks, President Obama jumped from topic to topic, frantically covering everything from cyber-attacks, to Guantanamo Bay, to our country's infrastructure, to education, childcare and everything else supposedly affecting every American in this moment in time.
There was one thing he didn't discuss in detail, surprisingly. It's a surprise because it's an issue that hits home with over half this country, give or take. It's a surprise, if anything, because it affects the president himself:
The ongoing protests against police brutality that have erupted all over the country since a young, unarmed black man was shot dead in the streets of Ferguson.
To put it another way: He asked astronaut Scott Kelly to send Instagram photos from Mars, but somehow, Michael Brown's name didn't come up.
It was a punch in the dick, and it was insulting.
This is Barack Obama’s last term, as he pointed out while throwing major shade at the GOP. That moment may have provided one of the year’s best gifs, but the sad truth of the matter is that it’s unlikely Obama will have the opportunity to push much of his agenda forward during his second term despite all of the grandiose promises he made last night.
This made a half-baked nod to Brown and Eric Garner—killed by a police officer with an impermissible chokehold in Staten Island—even more insulting. He talked passionately about closing the wage gap, ensuring paid sick and maternity leave, increasing the minimum wage, childcare, health insurance, and free community college for eligible students—all topics that the Republican-controlled House and Senate will work tirelessly to oppose. Meanwhile, young men and women all across America have been organizing what could be one of the most critical protest movements in the United States since the Civil Rights era (which apparently hasn't entirely ended).
These are the same men and women who helped elect Obama into office—twice. Many of them are people of color, and many of them are dying in streets or in prisons. Obama failed to acknowledge their efforts, and in doing so, he did them a great disservice. To put it lightly: It was a punch in the dick, and it was insulting.
And yet, to hear Obama speak about it, Americans are one big happy family in 2015. "I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long," he said. If we fully invest in social capital and bi-partisanship, the argument goes, we'll start to successfully level the playing field. The president even went so far as to use the term “Your Life Matters,” an embarrassing bastardization of the Black Lives Matter rallying cry that didn't just take over the Internet last year in the wake of several high-profile cases of unarmed black men being shot and killed by the police, but that took over American streets, in American cities and towns, as shouted by Americans many of us know. These are our friends, and neighbors, and ourselves, and we were ignored.
With apologies to the president: Entitled assholes do not need to be told “your life matters.” It's people like Tamir Rice who need to be acknowledged by the president, not with rhetoric, but with an honest recognition of the fact that black people and white people are not treated equally in this country. At the very least, Obama shouldn’t have waited until the end of his speech to vaguely allude to Garner and Brown. It was a footnote, an afterthought.
It doesn't necessarily mean the president's completely abandoned his base, or his interest in black voters. Perhaps he, like many African Americans, is simply tired of trying to explain deep-seated American racism. Whatever the case may be, by not mentioning Ferguson directly, the president let many of us down. Hopefully, he won't spend his last few years in office counting down the days and disappointments to those who got him there in the first place.
It's not a big ask.
Lauretta Charlton is a staff writer at Complex who writes about culture. Follow her on Twitter at @laurettaland.