At the Heart of The Obama “Birth Certificate Issue” There is Racist Prejudice

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by Paolo von Schirach

April 27, 2011

WASHINGTON– So, in the end Donald Trump’s well orchestrated inquisition, including private investigators sent to Hawaii, forced President Barack Obama to produce in public the original document that, indeed, certifies that he was actually born in Hawaii, US soil. Therefore he was and is eligible to be President. So little Barack was not born in a Kenyan hut in the middle of the savanna, delivered by a witch doctor, with lions roaring outside. No, folks, it really was Hawaii. Disappointed? Well, I am sure some really are. However, I bet that for many “birthers” the release of this document will not make a bit of difference. Prejudice is notoriously impervious to facts.

Unhappy day

But this is an unhappy day for America. We have reached a new low in the time honored practice of political smear. Donald Trump, who thinks with some reason that practicing to be a candidate for national political office is really no different that being a TV celebrity, whereby theatrics are just as relevant as policy, even said that he is proud of himself. He “forced” the birth issue out. And so now, if it will be settled because Obama finally produced the document, it is all thanks to him. A real hero, America.

Real story: disguised racism

But, beyond the theatrics, let’s not kid ourselves. The real story here is that the whole campaign alleging that Obama was not born in the US and thus, according to the US Constitution, would not be eligible to be President, is only thinly disguised racism. The totally bogus birth certificate issue was just a convenient peg to “demonstrate” that this man should not be President. And –let’s make this absolutely clear– they do not want him as President because he is Black. This is the unspoken, undisclosed real story.

The “birthers” will not be convinced

If the birth certificate issue had been raised in good faith by people who had at least some reasonable ground to be uncertain, then there should be a collective sigh of relief and all the good people would say: “Alright. This is now settled. Now we can move on”. But I doubt it. How many “birthers” will be reassured, now that the original document of Obama’s birth on US soil has been produced? I bet that many will say that the document is a forgery; that it is all a conspiracy, that the Hawaii state government has been bought, etc. In fact, the publisher of a book entirely devoted to the birth issue just stated that the documemt release by Obama changes nothing and that he expect to sell at least 500,000 copies.

Obama Muslim?

And then, of course, there is the other parallel story of those who believe that Obama is morally ineligible to be President because “he is a Muslim”. For them, the subtext runs like this: “America, you see, is a Christian nation, and so it is an abomination to have a Muslim President”. And this belief shows that the supposedly cardinal American principle of a clear separation between Church and State for many Americans applies if we postulate that Christians only may have a seat at the table. So, we cannot have a Muslim President and, as Obama is a Muslim, he is in place he does not deserve, as it is reserved “for one of us”.

Obama is not a Muslim. But, as in the birth issue, facts do not matter. In order to make the point that he should not be President, we simply claim that he is. And so we can make our point.

Fabrications allow people to claim Obama should not be President

So, two fabrications, the birth issue and the Muslim faith, provide “factual” basis for claiming that Obama should not be President. So, we can be racist without even mentioning race. We can disguise a basic prejudice without even admitting it, because ostensibly what we claim diqualifies Obama is not race.

Fate had it that Obama’s unusual background, the African father, the American mother’s international development work, his years in Indonesia and more, on top of his racial features, created the deep conviction among many Americans that “he is not one of us”.

Audience willing to believe

So, for a sizable minority of Americans it is possible to say that “he is not one us” on account of his unusual background. But the truth is that –for them–he is not one of us because he is Black. However, the problem is that they cannot say this publicly, as open profession of racism is now unacceptable. So, the easy fall back was to dig into Obama’s unusual background and “discover” damning evidence.

And so they did, finding a large audience willing to believe anything that would confirm their prejudice. But all of this reveals just one simple fact. The people who bought the whole foreign birth and Muslim faith story are not “unserious”. On the contrary, they are very seriously racist.

We thought the 2008 elections were a mile stone

For a brief moment it appeared that the 2008 election of Barack Obama, with a really large number of white voters supporting him, signaled the end of racism in America. Well, if not the end of racism, at least the beginning of a promising new chapter in which race would no longer be a lingering but unspoken divide. A divide that we would rather not talk about; but that nonetheless is still an open wound showing no sign of healing. We really thought that the 2008 elections represented a new mile stone in the American spiritual and political journey that led from slavery to the Civil War to segregation to civil rights legislation, now to Obama and who knows what else in the future.

For some Whites Blacks are not legitimate

It is clear that at least some Whites do not look at Blacks as really legitimate participants in this society. This obsession about Obama’s birth certificate and the parallel belief held by millions that he is a (dangerous?) Muslim, taken together, are evidence that a big chunk of our chequered racist past is still very much with us. Obama producing a piece of paper will not change these negative emotions held by so many. There is no additional “certificate” that President Obama can produce attesting that he is a truly legitimate American. For some he is not. Period.

This unfortunate story tells us that the day in which we shall all be able to judge a person not by race but by “the content of their character” is still quite far. Let’s hope not too far.

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