When it comes to ire in the African-American community over Donald Trump’s birtherism madness, no one has captured our sentiments better than John Legend. Of Trump’s insinuations that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and is not an American citizen, the recording artist said in no uncertain terms, “He needs to stop saying that racist bullsh** birther sh**.”
“Quote me please,” Legend added. “He should be ashamed of himself. It’s awful, really.” In a similar vein, comedy legend Bill Cosby said Trump is “full of it” and should either “run [for president] or shut up.”
And when Whoopi Goldberg confronted Trump on The View she told him “oh my God…that’s the biggest pile of dog mess I’ve heard in ages.” She continued, “it’s not ‘cause he’s black, is it?”
“Because I’ve never heard any white president asked to be shown the birth certificate,” an emotionally-charged Whoopi offered. “When you become the president of the United States of America, you know that he’s American. I’m sorry. That’s B.S.”
Many in the black community have choice words for Trump these days. Whether the real estate tycoon turned reality show host is doing it to boost his TV ratings or fulfill his presidential aspirations, it is clear Trump thinks questioning Obama’s place of birth is the winning ticket. He would not be the first politician to chart a course to victory via beating up on black people, and certainly not the last. And while this presidential wannabe may find rising popularity among the GOP primary voters — who are a majority birther demographic and who believe in an outright lie — he will find no love among black folks.
The reason for this is clear. The attacks on the president’s citizenship, combined with the personal jabs against Mr. Obama and his family, are an affront to the entire black community. And the attacks reflect the centuries-long struggle of African-Americans to be viewed and accepted as true Americans. Birtherism does not reflect a legitimate disagreement with the policies of the Obama administration. For a sincere, spirited debate on Obama, you need only look at the recent discussion between Dr. Cornel West and Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC.
But the recent coverage of Trump and his birtherism, while often correctly pointing out the lunacy of his ideas, is hurtful to blacks. This is an attempt to strip a visibly black man of his American-ness. To call President Obama an “Arab” or a “Kenyan” or a “Muslim” is merely to highlight the foreignness with which black Americans are still regarded by some segments of the population. This is a slap in the face to the descendants of slaves who have suffered through years of pent-up anxiety and sensitivity because the greater society has failed to accept them.Blacks have lived in America for centuries, before it was really America. Yet their fight to become accepted as Americans has followed them through slavery, segregation, the civil rights movement, and even in the Obama era. In the 1857 Dred Scott decision, a slave-owning chief justice of the Supreme Court concluded that “They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
And yet, they fought in every war to be accepted, including the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War, where nearly 180,000 of them served, and 40,000 lost their lives. African-Americans served bravely in the second World War, flying with the Tuskegee Airmen and liberating Nazi death camps.
After fighting for democracy and freedom in Europe and the Pacific, some black soldiers returned to the South only to face lynching while still in their uniforms. And we needed more than a birth certificate to win the right to vote, send our children to school or even eat at a lunch counter. Those accomplishments required the shedding of blood — the blood of black and white civil rights workers who sacrificed their lives in a country that failed to live up to its constitutional promise.
And this week, with Trump’s blessing, the Arizona Senate just approved a birther bill requiring presidential candidates to produce their birth certificate and prove they are U.S. citizens eligible to run for office. This, as lawmakers in states such as Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Texas introduce similar legislation, with birther bills efforts failing to gather momentum in Tennessee, New Hampshire and Georgia. I am curious to know how many of these birther lawmakers ever owned a passport, but that is for another discussion.
The U.S. presidency is the ultimate symbol of American prestige, power and influence, and the ultimate role model. And birthers believe that the position should only be held by a real American, which in their view cannot include a person of color, and certainly not someone with a name such as Barack Hussein Obama. A black man has nothing to teach their children, so they believe, and will do nothing less than brainwash and indoctrinate them.
That is why birtherism offends us so much.