Thursday, April 28, 2011


From the beginning, I've felt that the formula "birtherism = racism" was too simplistic -- yes, birtherism feeds off racism, but there's more going on. Over the last few decades I've watched so many Republicans vent so much hate at so many Democrats of all races, colors, and creeds that, while the racism of birtherism seems obvious, it also seems obvious that birtherism isn't just racism.

But I'm given pause by some reactions to the release of the Obama birth certificate. Goldie Taylor wrote this at the Grio (and read it last night on Rachel Maddow's show):

"Show me your papers!"

Major Blackard, then just 19 years old, dug into his trousers in search of his wallet. He padded his jacket, but could not find his billfold.

"Sir, I done left my wallet..." Blackard said. Before he could finish his sentence, the young man was posted against the brick wall, cuffed and taken to the St. Louis city jail. Unable to prove his identity, he would spend the next 21 days in a cramped, musty cell. That's where his older brother Matt found him, beaten and bloodied. Matt returned with Major's employer later that day, wallet and identification card in hand, to post bond.

The year was 1899. Major Blackard was my great, great grandfather.

The real crime, as Pulitzer Prize winning author Doug Blackmon points on in his seminal work Slavery by Any Other Name, was that my grandfather was a colored man in America.

This morning, as White House staffers released copies of the president's long form birth certificate, I couldn't shake the feeling that something very ugly was going on. For the first time in recorded history, a sitting president of the United States found it necessary to produce his original birth certificate for public inspection. Not once, in 235 years, have we ever demanded proof that our president was born on American soil....

Baratunde Thurston posted a video response to the news at Jack & Jill Politics:

There were people who dropped out of their ordinary lives, sacrificed their personal safety, their reputation, their ability to earn money, to intervene on behalf of those who they also saw as American. They got on buses in freedom rides, they sat in, they died in waves and waves of domestic terrorism, so that someone like me could go to a voting booth and not be asked by some racist poll worker to pay a tax, or prove that my grandfather wasn't a slave, or pass a literacy test, which got increasingly difficult the more I might pass it.

And today the president of the United States had to prove that he was an American to the satisfaction of the 75 percent of Iowa Republicans who doubt that, or the 43 percent of national Republicans who doubt that, or the one heinous, low-class individual who took credit for it after....


And yet campaigns of personal destruction have long been the right's standard response to any Democrat who's risen as high as Barack Obama had risen when he became a presidential nominee. Democratic presidents and Democratic presidential candidates are subjected to this sort of thing routinely. And the right-wing base responds with hate-filled enthusiasm routinely.

John Kerry was Swift Boated. Michael Dukakis was turned into an absurd little helmeted egghead in a tank, an elitist with ideas "born in Harvard Yard's boutique" (so deemed by that salt of the earth George Herbert Walker Bush), a man who won't protect you, or his own wife, from rampaging dark-skinned criminals.

Bill Clinton, of course, was deemed a murderer and a drug kingpin and a coke fiend and a real estate crook and a rapist and a pawn of the Chinese and a former Soviet agent and a thug who intimidated critics and the wife of a Maoist man-hater whose lesbianism didn't preclude a heterosexual affair with a man she later had killed ... did I miss anything? Are there people on the "Clinton Body Count" whose treatment at Clinton's hands doesn't fall under any of the above headings?

I'm sure there are, because Clinton, we were told (by many of the same people who attack Obama now) was evil -- so unspeakably evil that in 2000, when Rupert Murdoch's New York Post asked readers (in print and online) to select the 25 most evil people of the millennium, Bill Clinton, as a write-in, came in second, trailing Hitler but ahead of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mengele, while Hillary Clinton came in sixth, also as a write-in, ahead of Saddam Hussein, Adolf Eichmann, and Charles Manson. Such was the power of eight years of hatemongering, disseminated on talk radio and the then-novel Web and Fox News.

Faced with a powerful Democrat, of any race, the right just sows the seeds of hate any way it can,uses whatever material are available. I'm not saying that birtherism isn't racism -- I'm just saying racism is a weapon of convenience. The purveyors of birtherism are using it because it's there. If it weren't -- if the Democratic president were white -- they'd be trying just as hard to make Americans respond to that Democrat with hate, using different material.

So it's racism, but it's racism deployed cynically. It's not personal -- it's business. Character assassination is just what these people do.


Here are the Goldie Taylor and Baratunde Thurston videos.

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