Commentary: Does Being Black Give You Special Privileges to See the President?

Commentary: Does Being Black Give You Special Privileges to See the President?

A Black firefighter believes he should have been able to meet Obama Thursday during his visit to honor 9/11 victims.

Published May 6, 2011

Does being Black give you special privileges to see the president? Members of the Vulcan Society, an organization of Black firefighters, think so. The group is complaining that one of its members should have been able to see the president when he came to honor 9/11 victims on Thursday.


Patrice G. McLeod, 36, serves as the only Black firefighter to the West 48th Street Fire Department in New York City. President Obama came to visit the station’s heroic men and women to express his gratitude for the department’s efforts in the 9/11 attacks. Because McLeod was not officially on duty, he was not permitted to come to work that day.


Michael Marshall, the first vice president of the Vulcan Society, told the New York Times, “Secret Service only wanted the people that were working that tour there, and it is unfortunate that some provisions could not be made for the only Black firefighter in the firehouse to be there also.”


Whether you’re Black, white, brown, red, or tan, the president of the United States, especially Barack Obama, is someone who nearly everyone wants to meet. What gives someone more credibility than his or her counterpart to bypass the rules? And, in this case it was 30 other counterparts. That’s right, 30 other firefighters were off-duty Thursday and also did not receive permission to attend.


Maybe this situation should have received media attention if McLeod was the only firefighter who would not be permitted to see the president. Or maybe it should have received attention if this was a Black firefighter with a terminal illness whose lifelong dream was to meet President Obama.


But something in my inner-rooted Dr. Phil spirit isn’t allowing me to feel sympathetic in this situation, and I’m a Black woman. Maybe it’s the fact that this man had already met the president twice before? Or, maybe it’s because I couldn’t believe it when I read that he still showed up to the firehouse knowing that he was off-duty, and he hadn’t given his social security card to Secret Service to be cleared in the days prior.


Ultimately, I’m all about fighting for what’s right, but in this case, I can’t lift my fist.


(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Written by Danielle Wright


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