Saturday, April 30, 2011

A few random thoughts, #4

Updated A headline on an AP article from a couple of days ago, in the wake of the White House's release of Barack Obama's so-called "long form" birth certificate read:
Some blacks see racism in 'birther' questions
Well, duh and dammit, of course it's racism. Of course it is. Of course the whole "birther" crap was code for "He's not one of us - you know, us." Of course it was, as the article says,
a high-level manifestation of the idea that when a black person accomplishes something great there must be something wrong.
Bottom line is that of course it was a way to say "No way a nigger could be president!" without having to actually say it or even admit thinking it.

You don't have to endorse Barack Obama to acknowledge that, you don't even have to like him, either politically or for that matter personally. If any of you have hung around here for any length of time, you doubtless know that I am no fan of his, what with having dubbed him President Hopey-Changey for his position that pretty words should be enough for us and Generalissimo Hope-Changey for his spitting on the Constitution and all.

Yet throughout this business my reaction to demands he "show us the birth certificate" has been, in essence, "Why the hell should he?" Similar issues about "natural born citizen" have come up before but never went anywhere, indeed they sank so quickly that most people won't even remember the question was ever asked: For example, John McCain was born in the Canal Zone and Barry Goldwater, GOPper candidate for president in 1964, was born in Phoenix in 1909 - three years before Arizona became a state. In both those cases, questions were briefly raised about their constitutional eligibility for the presidency but quickly disappeared at least in part because the media wouldn't take them seriously.

So what is the difference this time? Why were supposedly "responsible" outlets like CNN seen asking the White House press secretary why Obama didn't release his "long form" birth certificate?

The difference this time, as should be painfully obvious, is as plain as night and day - or, to be more exact, black and white.

So the real question here is neither one of support for Barack Obama nor one of if there was racism involved in birtherism, but why does recognizing that latter fact seem to be so damned hard to do? Why is acknowledging even thinly-veiled racism seem so hard? Why does it seem so many of our "leaders" in both government and media are afraid to say do that?

Instead, in the face of any attempt to call out the birthers, the far too-common response has been more along the lines of "How DARE you say that!" How dare you, that is, point out the lies in the lies. How dare you point out paranoia in the paranoia. How dare you point out the racism in the racism.

Why? For some, the reason is that they share the racism. For some others it's that they hope to politically or financially profit from the racism. For still others it's simple cowardice, a fear of a cost associated with rejecting the racism.

But for yet others, and perhaps the greatest number, it's a matter of just not wanting to deal with it. Of just wanting to ignore it. Of living in denial.

But racism is a disease, a social disease. You can't wish it away; you can't ignore it away; you can't deny it away. And it won't go away by being polite to it.

Yes, the birther movement was driven by and drew its energy from racism, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged. Period. And the new calls about college records and other crap are also driven by and draw their energy from racism. Period, That the racism has to try to be clandestine, to hide behind code words and appeals to unspoken base fears, is a measure of how far we've come as a culture. That birtherism exists is a measure of how far we still have to go.

Footnote: Tom Tancredo has claimed on his radio show that the White House deliberately held back release of PHC's so-called "long-form" birth certificate in order to make GOPper leaders look ridiculous.

If that's true, it worked like a charm, didn't it, Tommy?

Updated with Another Footnote: Writing in the Boston Globe back on April 14, Joan Vennochi noted that Mitt Romney has not released his birth certificate, as a result of which we don't actually know what his real first name is! OMG! Could we accept a president with a fake name? Show us your papers!

Yes, it's silly; yes, it won't go anywhere; yes, that is the point.

Thanks to Mad Kane for the tip.

And One More Footnote: On a more serious note, watch this. Seriously. I mean it. Do. I'm a white guy in his 60s which is relevant in that it means the whole birther crap didn't move me in the same very personal, very visceral way that it did those who have felt directly the repeated slaps, the daily jabs to the soul, that living in a society still marked by racism will bring.


JayV said...

Some people said that with the election of Barack Obama (I voted for Nader), our country had finally entered a post racist era (or something like that). I never believed it; we still have work to do. Mendacity & racism are still alive.

I wear this small pin on my coat; it's a green map of the state of Vermont (where I live) with the words "End Racism." You'd be surprised the number of comments I get, mostly acknowledging that racism is real in this mostly white state. Even white folk admit it. I've given away about a dozen of these pins. I grabbed a handful at the end racism booth at the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont annual convention. I'm glad I did.

Lotus said...

Sounds like a good pin and yes, homogeneity is no protection against racism, only (potentially) against its overt expression and that only because there is less occasion for it.

Oh, and Jay? I knew you live in VT. :-)

danps said...

Thanks for stopping by my place to comment, Larry. Good points there, and lots of good ones here too.

Lotus said...

Dan -

You're certainly welcome. I do go by your place fairly often - I just tend to lurk a lot of places.

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