Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Birtherism, Racism, and Xenophobia...

Given that no one has ever asked any other president to produce his birth certificate, is it really possible to explain the birther phenomenon apart from a conscious or subconscious element of racism and/or xenophobia?  I pose it as an honest question, but I sincerely have not been able to come up with any likely answer other than yes.

I am long convinced that most of us do not believe what we believe because of evidence or a real interest in the objective truth.  We believe what we believe overwhelmingly because we want to believe certain things.  Only someone who is willing to change his or her opinion given reasonable evidence is really interested in the truth.  This more than anything else is what education is supposed to teach you.


Mr. Guthrie said...

John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, which was U.S. territrory at the time, where his father served in the Navy. During the 2008 Presidential campaign he had to have a court declare that he was indeed born in the United States and was therefore qualified to serve as President according to the U.S. Constitution. Democrats were attempting to disqualify him. And as the Obama administation withheld the birth certificate from public view for so long, thinking the controversy would benefit the President, the administation bears a good portion of the blame. Polls show that it is not just Conservative Republicans who doubt Obama was born in this country. Democrats, some of whom voted for Obama also have had their doubts due to Obama's refusal to release the birth certificate until now. The first public figures to question Obama's citizenship were the Clinton's. Was it race that motivated them?

Ken Schenck said...

I accept potential for political advantage as a motive for exploiting doubt although perhaps not so much for believing it. If I remember correctly, the McCain thing was in response to the Obama issue--it never had come up when he had run before.

JRS said...


Perhaps the lingering skepticism is simply a response to the president's failure to fulfill his promise of leading the most open and transparent administration ever.

When a person is persistently disingenuous people quite understandably become suspicious of everything.

Seth said...


We all by law have the right to plead the 5th in court but doing so clearly makes people think we are guilty. In this case, it was a poor PR move not to provide the document right away as President. The fact that such a public figure resisted showing such a basic document made even some of the least paranoid voters question why he wouldn't produce them. To me, this is why so many people jumped on the birther bandwagon. The longer it went on and the more the President seemed to resist showing the document, the more people questioned if he might be hiding something.

It seems very presumptuous and premature to lump all people who think that a President should show a birth certificate together in a "racist" category. My experience has been that many people ASSUME all Presidents have to show a birth certificate (since required by the Constitution that the President be a natural born citizen) and are surprised when they find out they don't. Aren't you doing the same thing as those you assume are racists by lumping people together and slapping a 'racist' label on them?

I, for one, think that all Presidents should have to and be willing to disclose such an obvious document regardless of race or ethnicity...if they want the office of the President that is.

Ken Schenck said...

That really seems to me like a different issue, perhaps valid, but different.

Of course I've felt like I have been able to predict most of the moves and decisions Obama has made, which points to a fairly predictable style and approach. I really haven't been able to figure out where the big deception has been. Then again, I mostly watch CNN these days ;-)

FrGregACCA said...

Well, Seth, did you feel that way before Obama was elected? Did you even think about it?

George Romney, for example, was born in Mexico of parents who were American citizens. IIRC, no such issue was raised when he ran for President back in 1968.

Mr. Guthrie, there have been several cases brought to court by persons seeking to get Obama declared ineligible to be President. They have all been thrown out, but unlike the question of McCain's eligibility, the question will not die, being kept alive by ever more preposterous suppositions and conspiracy theories.

Ken Schenck said...

Who knows, but in one scenario you can see the President enjoying watching his opponents hang themselves every night. Can't you hear the conversation in bed? Trump's going to look like a complete joke when this is all over. Let these ignoramuses run around making themselves look stupid. Bachmann will never be president because she's going to look like a fool. Huckabee's at it again--no one will ever take him seriously when this is over.

And of course he was under no obligation to show anything. It wasn't his responsibility to keep these fools from revealing their level of intelligence. So all this has shown is that most of America--and this of course includes both liberal and conservative--is just plain stupid.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Why does everything have to be about race or money, it seems?

Maybe people just don't like him! That is not racism, just a preference about a character "type". You dare not dislike a Muslim or African Amercian these days, surely it is because of race!

Mr. Guthrie said...

FrFregACCA- I do not question any of the court rulings challenging the President's citizenship. Neither am I a fan or supporter of Donald Trump. Also, there have been challenges to other candidates and President's citizenship, although the challenges were mild in comparison to the challenge to Obama's citizenship. Here is a link to an article detailing the history of this issue:

The issue of McCain's citizenship has died because he lost the election. The story would have been different had he won.

Dr. Schenck, Obama certainly does have an obligation to release his birth certificate no matter what motivates those who question his citizenship. He took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution which states that a President must be born within the United States. He has a political obligation to release the birth certificate to remove the issue from public discourse. He has a Constitutional obligation to prove he did not lie when he took the oath of office. Since he swore under oath to uphold the Constitution and he claims to be a follower of Christ, his obligation has a theological aspect as well.

::athada:: said...

From my brief experience in discussing racial issues (incl. in sometimes volatile Marion, IN) it seems that our ability ("our" meaning esp. white folks like myself) to so quickly claim that racism is dead and absolutely a non-issue is simply proof otherwise.

::athada:: said...

Once again, you've put your finger on the pulse. Keep it up, Dr.

Ken Schenck said...

I'm not buying it. Open to being convinced but sometimes the truth just isn't what we want it to be.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It is impossible for anyone to not hold prejuidice, as prejudice is making some judgment of value. If one has values, then one has to judge.

Much of racial issues is about cultural differences. I may not prefer another's culture. There isn't anyghing wrong with that, except for those that hold to politically correct views, or some "idealized" Utopia.

I don't value a culture that enforces prayer 5x a day, or one that sacrifices to "the gods", or one that teaches children that the government owes them a living. Am I prejuidiced? Yes. And I don't mind being so. And if others are honest with themselves, then they will admit that they, too, have certain value judgments.

Ken Schenck said...

Father is Kenyan, grew up in Indonesia, comes from Hawaii. Is he really American? I understand the train of thought. But would it ever have been perpetuated if people had not wanted it to be true?

And why would they want it to be true? I don't think we can get away from the likelihood that the majority reason is because he is "other." Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi had this effect as well. It wasn't just that they were liberal. It was that they were liberal and "other."

π² said...

Although it may have been racism for some, to me it seemed an obvious question since his father was Kenyan. The president's motivation regarding withholding his birth certificate was political in my opinion. Either he didn't have a U.S. birth certificate or he was waiting to release it at a time when it would make his opponents the most foolish. I read an article in which the writer stated he was surprise that President Obama didn't wait until the Republican primaries.

Nathan Crawford said...

What no one has mentioned is that in Hawaii, the short form birth certificate is the legal birth certificate. The long form one, i.e., the one released on 4/27, was not the necessarily legal document detailing his birth and the givenness of his rights to be an American Citizen. If, say, the long form birth certificate had been eradicated from the existence of the earth, legally he would still have a binding birth certificate in the short form one from that he released.

I really think that the reason Obama didn't release the long form birth certificate is because he really thought it was a non-issue for people on talk TV/radio to discuss. But, when multiple potential candidates for the Republican nomination for president insist on talking about this as part of their campaign, then it has not gone away and has become engrained into a group of people's psyche. He released this long form birth certificate to reorient the national discussion upon things that are really important, like our three "military actions", the budget, high unemployment, etc. That seemed to come out pretty clear when he talked at the news conference.

Seth said...

In 1972, two unknown reporters, following up on a series of small unanswered questions in what police called a typical burglary case, started on a journey that would be met with threats against their careers and even their lives, yet took down some of the most powerful people in the country.

Woodward and Bernstein used the most powerful weapon they had against the government: a question.

As they continued to investigate they found a complexity of layers that was much less than transparent on a path that led straight to the White House and exposed Richard Nixon's crimes.

The problem I see today is the unwillingness to ask questions.

Today's media won't pursue some of the tough questions when lawmakers hide them, and this blog seems to back up the idea that the easiest way to not answer a question is to attack the person asking it.

Here's the bottom line: The President, regardless of color or religion, is accountable to those who elect him. You may not like it but actors, singers, and politicians don't get the same privacy protections as a normal citizens because they choose their high-profile role in society.

Do I believe Obama is an American citizen? Yes.

Do I believe the media would sit back and allow a white president the same luxery of withholding these documents despite immense pressure from the public to relase them? No.

In fact, President Bush was destroyed in the media after election claims that he had gone AWOL from military duty. CBS anchor Dan Rather, a highly respected journalist went to air with very little proof of his accusations.

Media hounded Bush for about a month until the White House collected and released documents proving his innocence. Media outlets tucked their tails and slowly backed away.

What about this issue with President Obama? The media has done nothing except to attack those posing the question about why he is so reluctant to release his birth certificate. This blog has followed suit.

My point? People should be able to ask questions without being labeled as a racist.

What I find funny is the fact that so many people just assume politicians are telling the truth without seeking proof or evidence on their own. I'm not talking about the birth certificate issue but a multitude of big picture issues we just assume we are being fed truth about.

We don't look into issues ourselves, instead (as I believe this blog shows) we trust the media that when they say someone is a natural born citizen we believe it without asking for proof.

Isn't THAT what education is all about? Asking the question...and truly looking for the answer rather than taking the media's word for it?

Don't shut down the general question by applying a one-size-fits all racist label to it.

You are questioning motives which are personal and different for each person. You are oversimplifying an issue that may win diversity points in higher ed but doesn't solve the real problem, which is that people who are TRULY wanting to know the answer WILL ask questions - including questions lingering about the lack of transparency in Obama's past (until today's release). Your post (intentionally or unintentionally) labels anyone asking this specific question a racist.

So, I pose this question back to you: Do you WANT us to learn the truth even if it means asking questions? Isn't it right for 'lifelong' learners to continue to ask questions without the fear of being labeled for their reluctance to accept something they haven't been shown evidence of?

Just my the way, thanks for this interesting conversation!

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Seth for that. You all have convinced me that many asking the questions were riding a wave of general opposition to Obama. I also remain convinced, however, that for very many of these, the "otherness" of Obama is a significant factor. The fever and irrationality of the opposition otherwise just doesn't add up for me.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Good post!

The party line is racism, homophobia, immoral capitalism, on the Democratic side. And party lines don't think, or ask questions, they just chant the party line. This happens all the time, as we are "group thinkers" for the most part!!

Belonging to a group brings comfort, because we have validation to what we suppose to be "ultimate". It is self-confirmation, more than a desire to "rouse the ship".

While racism is a sign of group orientation, I'm not quite sure where cultural standards are equatable. Culture is about values in a particular society. Do we want a religious society that is not tolerant? That is the question facing American/America today. I don't think that we do, as this is not our foundation or our value. American Christians haven't for the most part thought long enough or asked questions deep enough to know whether what they desire would really bring about a "better tomorrow". I'm still asking the questions, as I don't know.

::athada:: said...

Being "American" today is not only growing up around Boy Scouts, as some GOP contenders have proposed. Foreign born population has hovered around 12-15% since the 19th c, and is now in a upward phase. America will have no majority race ~2050 (more diverse). We can no longer afford ignorance in leadership (lack of travel, intercultural experience) given our ever-deepening economic and military ties with the world.

There have to be qualified GOP contenders in this regard. Let's hope they become front-runners.

::athada:: said...

Not to mention that a healthy portion of academic and business leadership is already foreign-born and/or minority race. The innovations of a small number of these talented people have led to economic/technological gains for everyone.

To use a biological metaphor, rather than viewing immigration / cultural innovation as an invasive species, maybe we can see it as keeping our gene pool diversified and more adaptable to natural selection pressures :)

Ken Schenck said...

Right now, the only GOP candidate I think has any serious credibility or possibility is Mitt Romney. I think Mitch Daniels here in Indiana would make a fine president, but I don't think he has a serious shot.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Business interests do have to be diverse, but that doesn't mean that a given individual is bound to identify with another culture.

A given individual finds his place and his loyalty to those that mean something to him/her and should be a mutually beneficial relationship. Loyalty has many dimensions, not just about business interests!

"Propaganda" gives an individual a "given" (controlled) line" or speicified information, so that control can be accomplished. Without control, a "dominate leader" (ala natural selection) might not get the goal accomplished...(but at what costs to other lives?)!

Loyalty has to be assessed against many diverse commitments, and sometime conflicting ones. This is why it is impossible for social engineering to work, when it comes to particular individuals!

Lee Jackson said...

I'm white, of northern European extraction, and understand that I don't understand...

After Mr. Obama's election, I had occasion to visit a school with a good mixture of race. I saw the faces of African-Americans, saw that something incredibly important had happened for them--something I could see but not personally experience. Although I politically disagree with almost everything he strongly espouses, I knew it was good that someone "who didn't look like me" was elected. Very good.

This has caused my thoughts to migrate into a new territory, to ask, "What is important?" rather than "With whom do I most agree?"

But as important as it is for us to have elected someone "other," to change our history and include those who have been excluded, to me it is not the most important. Integrity is. I would rather have a man or woman of any color or persuasion, with whom I disagree in the strongest terms, who does his or her best to live and act with honesty and consistency, than a white man, with whom I agree, but who is a scoundrel.

Unfortunately, I believe President Obama to be just another politician, using people and events for his own advancement. In a sense, he is neither Black nor white, he is a politician. His heritage, if united with good character, could have helped us be a better people. The hope I saw in those young faces has been squandered.

Racism in the form of undisguised dislike for those different is real, but hopefully diminished. Racism in the form of discomfort and fear of the unknown is not acceptable, but part of being human and a challenge to be overcome. Undoubtedly, racism describes some of the response to President Obama. But I believe the larger issue is character. We are weary of politicians and long for a leader.