Is racism fueling the ‘birther movement’?

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This photo provided by the Honolulu Advertiser shows Obama’s birth announcement, center, in the Aug. 13, 1961 edition of the paper. (AP Photo/The Honolulu Advertiser)

The “birther movement” is an organized effort by individuals across the nation who have chosen to believe that Barack Obama is not a naturally born US citizen and thus ineligible to be president of the United States. The movement has gained momentum across the nation, but has been relegated, for now, to the fringes of media; they might do better by putting their money in a pool and paying for time on an infomercial.

I am not going to take one side or the other in this debate, since I am not one to believe everything the government says. Simultaneously, I am not interested in buying into a theory dumped on my front porch by people who seem to already have a preconceived agenda. But I was asked whether or not I feel that racism plays a role in the birther movement, so I will directly address that possibility.

Racism is the social virus which infects many of the institutions and individuals within our society. Those who control our society are not responsible for the initial infection (we owe that to 400 years of hard work oppressing black people), but we then choose to take a role in either mitigating the infection or perpetuating it. What’s worse is that those who make the virus stronger don’t even realize when they are doing it.

Are there racists in the birther movement? Absolutely. There are many people who are, consciously or not, uncomfortable with the idea of having an African American President. The disease of racism often cleverly masquerades itself as some seemingly legitimate concern. For example, black boys are placed in special education at a rate that is five times greater than white kids, but not a single teacher in America will argue that racism played a role in their placement decision.

Many birthers hate President Obama and consider him to be an evil man, and don’t realize that their outrage might not be the same if Obama did not have brown skin. But the truth is that America has a long history of expressing outrage toward black men, especially those who “don’t know their place.” For example, have you noticed the difference in public outrage between Michael Vick’s dogfighting case vs. Ben Roethlisberger’s rape allegations? Even before Vick was convicted, the public treated him as public enemy number one. In the case of Big Ben, the public hardly notices that he might have violated a woman sexually.

We know that there are some closet racists in the birther movement. But do all of the birthers consciously promote a racist agenda? Absolutely not. Many members of the birther movement are people who simply don’t want Barack Obama to be president. If you want a politician out of office, it is tempting to grab onto anything you can to make your case, and some may even leverage the racism of others to propel their agenda. (Remember when Bill Clinton compared Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson, arguing that he didn’t have a chance to win the election?)

The truth is that many of the birthers wouldn’t pay a lick of attention to this issue if the president were a Republican. Politics is a lot like love: If you think someone’s hot, you tend to overlook their imperfections.

The final subgroup within the birther movement consists of true Americans who honestly believe that the president broke the law. Of course every birther is going to claim to be a member of this group, but many of them would be lying. The painful truth is that anyone who joins the birther movement in the pursuit of political honesty and justice is representing the very best of American freedoms and liberties.

So, do I agree with the birther movement? No. Not because I think they are definitely wrong, but because I personally don’t feel that the president’s place of birth is a relevant issue. But my opinion doesn’t have to be same as your own, and that’s what America is all about.

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