Birther-gate: the silliness that ain’t silly

So President Obama persuaded Hawaiian officials with a personal, handwritten note to send him copies of the sacred “long form” birth certificate so that the White House can distribute the document widely and bring a hoped for end to the “silliness” about the origins of his birth.

Until this week, Hawaii officials said they wouldn’t release original birth records for anyone, under any circumstances. Even if it was President Barack Obama.

reported by AP and quoted from the Washington Post.  But a personal note from the President on White House stationary caused a change of heart and copies of the “long form” birth certificate were made available to the White House, and soon the world.

If only the world were that simple.

Pulitzer prize winning Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. wrote a kick-ass piece on Donald Trump’s entry into the whole birther thing.  When Trump grumbled that “birther” is not a fair name for the movement of people who have concerns about President Obama’s provenance, Pitts takes him up on the challenge to come up with better names:

Very well, then. If not birthers, how about if we call them “morons?’’ How about ‘‘jackasses,” “imbeciles,” “idiots’’ or “doofuses?” How about “pinheads’’— or would that require a royalty to Bill O’Reilly?

Read more:

“Racists” will do.

Mr. Pitts and others make the point that not nearly as much hay was made over Senator John McCain’s birth origin, the Panama Canal Zone, and whether that fact should should have brought his eligibility for the presidency into question.  One article mentions that then-candidate McCain hired a “bipartisan pair” of attorneys to look into the issue of his eligibility.  They concluded that all was honky-dory and the matter was laid to rest.  Nearly two and a half years after winning the 2008 election and over 2 years since assuming office, President Obama is still being accused of not being born in this country and thus not eligible to be president of it.  It doesn’t matter that two newspapers in Hawaii printed birth announcements at the time of his birth way back in 1961.  It doesn’t matter that childhood friends have strong memories of going to school and hanging with Barry, as he was known then.  It just doesn’t matter.

I found an interesting post from last year on the site Prometheus 6, the title of which summarizes the reason why it just doesn’t matter:  Because Blacks are not Americans.  The post quotes at length a commentary written by history lecturer Dr. Keith Berry originally published on the website of the Organization of American Historians.  Dr. Berry talks about his experiences teaching American history classes in Florida community colleges.  At the end of one class session, he writes, a student asked him “Why do you talk about black people so much?”  Others stated that they didn’t think the class was an African American Studies class, but a class on American history.  One student opined that, “the problem with Dr. Berry is that he teaches American history from a black man’s point of view.”

When I took a class in African American history during my time at UCLA, the professor began with a story that went something like this:  an Irish American, an Italian American and French American are in a bar together drinking and shooting the breeze.  They talk about their various heritages in passing during the conversation, not heatedly, but just as a matter of course.  Then, in walked an African American.  Sudden tension in the room erases all but one distinction between the four men.  The Irish, Italian, and French Americans become white and the African American is black.  Race trumps both heritage and national identity.   Guess who loses.

This attitude is the crux of the birther phenomenon.  He can’t be president, they are saying, because he doesn’t look like us and therefore he doesn’t act like us or have the same values as us.  He’s different.  So he can produce documents, papers, long certificates, short certificates, and gold plated baby shoes until hell freezes over, it still will not be enough.  They’ll bemoan, “He took too long” or “It still doesn’t feel right” or “It’s a fake.”  There are still folks who believe we never landed on the moon.  And so too, it seems, there are folks unwilling to believe that an African American man was legally elected president of the United States.  The reality of the situation is too much for them and they prefer the dark comfort of ignorance.

I cannot fault the President for not weighing in on this matter more than he has.  As some have noted it is a no-win situation.  One doesn’t want to legitimize such BS.  And as the president said himself, he has more important things to do.  But the situation may well be a good opportunity for a teachable moment about race in America.  He did this eloquently as a candidate for the White House and this country truly cannot have enough cogent conversations about race.  I realize that there are weighty reasons why he would not want to embark on such a course.  But it is worth considering.

Update:  I stopped watching Rachel Maddow too early this evening.  Check out this video featuring a guest commentary by Goldie Grio.  The full text of her commentary is here.

© 2011, gar. All rights reserved.

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