Main Menu

Birthers and racism

I just finished the Salon.com article, Is Obama “American” enough for the far right now?, which seems essentially an argument that birtherism is a form of racism. The authors, Andrew Burnstein and Nancy Isenberg, set up the view that they oppose by saying:

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” over the weekend, Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson suggested that the birther movement may not be about race. She compared the buzz around the issue to those conspiracy-minded individuals who tied Bill Clinton to the “murder” of Vince Foster in 1993 — an observation that other have made as well. It just seems too easy to describe the ruling passion of those who label President Obama a secret Muslim (or, to recall Mike Huckabee’s infamous slur, a Kenyan revolutionary), as strictly racist.

And indeed, I am one of those who have been saying that. I don’t think anyone doubts that there are racists who hold birther ideas. Indeed I wrote an article in early 2009 Yes, Virginia, there are racists against Obama giving an example. but the Salon article goes so far as to explain birtherism in terms of race.

The Salon article basically uses the example of the crank “two citizen parent natural born citizen” theory as the basis for their association of racism with this form of birtherism. Tracing such views through the pro-slavery thread in American history is interesting, but birtherism’s “two parent” theory doesn’t come down a path of thought linked through the Dred Scott decision. It comes from Leo Donofrio and his arguments from Emerich de Vattel. Dred Scott was dragged up later in a desperate attempt to prop up the “two-parent” theory which otherwise standing judicially naked.

De Tar Baby

As we have seen from the comments of psychologists on conspiracy theories, any kind of bias can lead someone to select one piece of information as reliable and another as unreliable. I think that we should be mindful of the fact that birtherism has from the beginning been a theory in search of evidence. It is the tar baby of ideas, and any story that’s negative about Obama sticks. Whether a person is an arch-supporter of Israel, a white racist or a right winger who hates everything liberal, they all have a disposition to believe anything bad about Obama and once they start believing, they become more and more invested in that belief, accepting more and more implausible stories that snowball even to the point of developing false memories of what they were taught in Civics class.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we cannot look at a particular birther belief and a particular birther and derive that birther’s racism from the belief. The individual birther believes all of it because they have invested great psychological energy building up their views, and have come to the point of shutting out anything that contradicts their construction, even it if seems racist to the outside observer.

Related articles:

This article is from the Understanding the Birthers series.

, , , , , ,

27 Responses to Birthers and racism

  1. avatar
    richCares May 8, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    Show me a Birther that is not racist and I’ll show you a mental patient!

  2. avatar
    Obsolete May 8, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    +1
    /end of thread.

  3. avatar
    Paul May 8, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Hmmm… I’m not sure your theory holds water. There may be a non-racist basis for some of the birther ideas, but I would be surprised if even a large minority of the birthers have so much as heard the name Leo Donofrio. My view is, they’re racist, they look for a reason — ANY reason — to attack Obama, and they grab it.

  4. avatar
    Slartibartfast May 8, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    I completely agree – the least common denominator is bigotry not racism. One cannot be a birther without some sort of prejudice against President Obama (I’ve yet to see the birther who can even bring themselves to write ‘President Obama’ or refer to the POTUS with any respect at all…). Racism is just the most prevalent of those prejudices. I think a good case can be made that the birther movement as a whole is racist in how it operates (ask the black man for his papers, make up new requirements for him – it seems awfully similar to some of the ways they tried to keep blacks from voting (and still do – the Republican party is all about suppressing the vote in any way that they can get away with…). Because of this (and since President Obama responded to the unreasonable request to release his long form) I think that it is fair to call any birther a racist – in my mind, the burden of proof has shifted to the birthers to prove that they are not racist. I believe that the defection of people who’s bias is politically based (who I’m guessing are starting to see how impotent the birthers are…) is making the birthers even more racist (the racists will be the last to leave [they’ll cling to birtherism along with their guns and religion {it’s really too bad that none of them seem to understand what their religion teaches…}]). I’ve also noticed that the racists amongst the birthers seem to be a little more open about their racism (besides people like Lame Cherry who where already blatantly racist) since the LFBC release.

  5. avatar
    sactosintolerant May 8, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    The talk of racism really distracts from what, for me at least, is the big issue with birthers… an unwillingness to accept the overwhelming evidence and an attachment to a belief in which NO evidence exists. Claiming a birther is racist is only different from claiming Obama was born in Kenya in that a birther MAY actually be racist, but its usually a claim not based on proof. Not only that, but any birther discussion devolves to am not racist/are too racist once it gets brought up.

    I can’t imagine that if Jesse Jackson had been elected, we would see a birther movement like this. Yes, Obama looks dark, but he is also someone who grew up outside the 48 real states, lived in another country, and has a strange sounding name. To pin it all on racism is to ignore all his other otherness and just focus on race.

  6. avatar
    G May 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Slartibartfast: I completely agree – the least common denominator is bigotry not racism. One cannot be a birther without some sort of prejudice against President Obama (I’ve yet to see the birther who can even bring themselves to write ‘President Obama’ or refer to the POTUS with any respect at all…). Racism is just the most prevalent of those prejudices. I think a good case can be made that the birther movement as a whole is racist in how it operates (ask the black man for his papers, make up new requirements for him – it seems awfully similar to some of the ways they tried to keep blacks from voting (and still do – the Republican party is all about suppressing the vote in any way that they can get away with…).

    Agreed. You’ve made some very good points. I too have always pointed to bigotry as the least common denominator and bigotry includes race, religion, sex and ideology.

    I think there are a few other reasons that come up – some of these folks are just pure anti-government conspiracy paranoids and glom onto anything that fits that model. Some of these folks are clearly mentally ill. But bigotry is definitely the main factor at play.

    Racism is definitely one of the key themes you see…I’m not sure if it truly is the #1 motivator out there – so many anti-muslim rants are made amongst the birtheristani that I think many of them are stuck in a post 9/11 “fear anything sounding or looking muslim” prejudice and they condemn him merely for his name and the ancestry of his father and don’t care a whit that the only religion there is evidence of him ever practicing was Christianity…very sad really and definitely bigoted.

    A more important point should be made about the Birther Movement as a whole – due to the prevalence of clear bigotry and even the volume of clear racism in the group, you have to wonder why *ANY* Birther who wasn’t racist or a bigot would tolerate the statements of the others that clearly are. But you almost NEVER see any condemnation of any of that from them…only a type of gut defensiveness in their reactions that comes off more like trying to hide their own guilt than anything else.

    So, if you are part of a movement that has a strong emphasis of bigotry and even clear racism and you don’t seem to have a problem with those other members of your group who say and do such clearly bigoted and racist things…well, that seems to be pretty clear acceptance of those tactics and views, if you ask me.

    Call it bigotry/racism via complicitness and acceptance.

    As the old saying goes, if you lay down with dogs, you are going to get fleas…

  7. avatar
    Slartibartfast May 8, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    G
    I think there are a few other reasons that come up – some of these folks are just pure anti-government conspiracy paranoids and glom onto anything that fits that model.Some of these folks are clearly mentally ill.But bigotry is definitely the main factor at play.

    I think the anti-government paranoid bigots will hang on to the bitter end along with the racists.

    Racism is definitely one of the key themes you see…I’m not sure if it truly is the #1 motivator out there – so many anti-muslim rants are made amongst the birtheristani that I think many of them are stuck in a post 9/11 “fear anything sounding or looking muslim” prejudice and they condemn him merely for his name and the ancestry of his father and don’t care a whit that the only religion there is evidence of him ever practicing was Christianity…very sad really and definitely bigoted.

    You may be right that the anti-muslim faction is bigger than the racist faction of the birthers.

    A more important point should be made about the Birther Movement as a whole – due to the prevalence of clear bigotry and even the volume of clear racism in the group, you have to wonder why *ANY* Birther who wasn’t racist or a bigot would tolerate the statements of the others that clearly are.But you almost NEVER see any condemnation of any of that from them…only a type of gut defensiveness in their reactions that comes off more like trying to hide their own guilt than anything else.

    Yup.

    So, if you are part of a movement that has a strong emphasis of bigotry and even clear racism and you don’t seem to have a problem with those other members of your group who say and do such clearly bigoted and racist things…well, that seems to be pretty clear acceptance of those tactics and views, if you ask me.

    Call it bigotry/racism via complicitness and acceptance.

    As the old saying goes, if you lay down with dogs, you are going to get fleas…

    Or to put it another way, enabling racism is racist.

  8. avatar
    Slartibartfast May 8, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    G: I think there are a few other reasons that come up

    It would be interesting to see the birther bigotry Venn diagram… 😉

  9. avatar
    G May 9, 2011 at 12:59 am #

    Slartibartfast: It would be interesting to see the birther bigotry Venn diagram…

    Agreed. And with everything you said in your previous post as well.

  10. avatar
    The Magic M May 9, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    > I can’t imagine that if Jesse Jackson had been elected, we would see a birther movement like this.

    OTOH if you had a white Republican president who has a strange sounding name and grew up outside the US, do you think there would be a birther movement?
    Do you think there would have been a leftist birther movement if McCain had been elected?
    And remember, I don’t mean “people questioning his natural born citizen status”, I mean “people questioning his natural born citizen status against all proof to the contrary, lying and ignoring clear evidence”.
    I don’t think you can separate race from the issue. It’s not the only driving factor, but it is a major one.

  11. avatar
    Jerome May 9, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    I Guess Hillary Clinton and her whole 2008 Campaign was Racist then??? Since they were the first ones to bring up the whole thing in the first place. Of course they were looking at it from the Natural Born Citizen point of view as Obama’s father was a British subject making Obama a British subject as well. (Dual Cititzen by Birth not Natural Born) According to the intent of the founders and the Constitution it makes Obama ineligible to be president. Problem was it would have been too difficult to pursue in a campaign so it was dropped.

    I look at it this way. It’s easier to consider Birther’s Racist than to consider the possibility that they may be right and the whole country has been conned???

    Ignorance is bliss after all.

  12. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 9, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Jerome:
    I Guess Hillary Clinton and her whole 2008 Campaign was Racist then??? Since they were the first ones to bring up the whole thing in the first place. Of course they were looking at it from the Natural Born Citizen point of view as Obama’s father was a British subject making Obama a British subject as well. (Dual Cititzen by Birth not Natural Born) According to the intent of the founders and the Constitution it makes Obama ineligible to be president. Problem was it would have been too difficult to pursue in a campaign so it was dropped.

    I look at it this way. It’s easier to consider Birther’s Racist than to consider the possibility that they may be right and the whole country has been conned???

    Let’s see if we can untangle this. First Hillary Clinton never made the slightest hint that Barack Obama was ineligible. The second falsity in your comment is that the fringe group of Clinton Supporters (the so-called PUMAs) never raised the Dual citizen/natural born citizen issue; they focused on the rumors that Obama was born in Africa. The crank legal theories were never embraced by Clinton’s followers including their most prominent member, Phil Berg. It never existed in that group, so it was never dropped.

    If ignorance is bliss, then you must be very, very happy right now.

  13. avatar
    Scientist May 9, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    Jerome: The “2 citizen parent/dual citizen theory” was first raised by Leo Donofrio in October/Novemebr 2008, at which point Hillary Clinton was long gone. Do you have any evidence linking Donofrio with the Clinton campaign? if you do, that would be interesting. What is incontestible is that no such theories surfaced during the primary between Clinton and Obama or anytime prior to October/November 2008.. I challenge you to provide a citation prior to then.

    And while some birthers are certainly rascist, some may not be. Every last one, however, is massively, incontestibly foolish and wrong.

  14. avatar
    The Magic M May 9, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    > According to the intent of the founders

    … upon which you birthers project whatever you want it to be…

    > and the Constitution

    … upon which you birthers project whatever you want it to be…

    > it makes Obama ineligible to be president

    No, it doesn’t. Maybe the Constipation of the Birther States of America, your parallel universe where lie is truth and up is down, maybe that one does.

    > Problem was it would have been too difficult to pursue in a campaign so it was dropped

    Why would it have been “difficult”? You always come up with new excuses why no-one realized crap is crap. It’s always got to be something nefarious.

    > It’s easier to consider Birther’s Racist than to consider the possibility that they may be right

    You still think that “racist” is just another propaganda word getting thrown at you. But that’s the right-wing method, not mine. If you care to elaborate why you are not concerned about seeing GWB’s birth certificate or Bill Clinton’s birth certificate when you’re allegedly so “doubtful of everything”, then maybe we can understand why your agenda not racially motivated.

    Besides, birfers have yet to prove they’re right in a single instance. So far, all we’re seeing are lies (“Abercrombie says he can’t find the BC”), obfuscations (“Hawaii said they’re making an exception by releasing electronic copies”) and blatant misunderstanding of the laws involved (“if only Obama had shown his BC, Lakin wouldn’t have gone to jail”).

    > and the whole country has been conned

    Sure, and eeeeeverybody is in on it, except the few birfers who refuse to follow. Obviously even the birfer families are part of the conspiracy as they consider them to be “the whacky uncle” or “auntie who’s losing it”.

    After all, you’re not saying “Obama cleverly hid some important facts about his life”, you’re saying “Congress and Republicans and Democrats and courts and military and media and … all know about it and take part in the conspiracy”. And that’s where you’re in looneyland and might just as well believe the US are the 17th German state and just no-one hasn’t told you yet.

  15. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 9, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    sactosintolerant:
    To pin it all on racism is to ignore all his other otherness and just focus on race.

    This is why I would like to see a poll or something before jumping to a conclusion.

  16. avatar
    bob strauss May 9, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Scientist May 9, 2011 at 8:47 am (Quote) #

    Jerome: The “2 citizen parent/dual citizen theory” was first raised by Leo Donofrio in October/Novemebr 2008, at which point Hillary Clinton was long gone. Do you have any evidence linking Donofrio with the Clinton campaign? if you do, that would be interesting. What is incontestible is that no such theories surfaced during the primary between Clinton and Obama or anytime prior to October/November 2008.. I challenge you to provide a citation prior to then.

    And while some birthers are certainly rascist, some may not be. Every last one, however, is massively, incontestibly foolish and wrong.
    ****************************
    “I challenge you to provide a citation prior to then.”
    Phillip Berg filed his lawsuit against Obama in August 2008.

  17. avatar
    G May 9, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Jerome: I Guess Hillary Clinton and her whole 2008 Campaign was Racist then??? Since they were the first ones to bring up the whole thing in the first place. Of course they were looking at it from the Natural Born Citizen point of view as Obama’s father was a British subject making Obama a British subject as well. (Dual Cititzen by Birth not Natural Born) According to the intent of the founders and the Constitution it makes Obama ineligible to be president. Problem was it would have been too difficult to pursue in a campaign so it was dropped.I look at it this way. It’s easier to consider Birther’s Racist than to consider the possibility that they may be right and the whole country has been conned???Ignorance is bliss after all.

    Dr. Conspiracy: Let’s see if we can untangle this. First Hillary Clinton never made the slightest hint that Barack Obama was ineligible. The second falsity in your comment is that the fringe group of Clinton Supporters (the so-called PUMAs) never raised the Dual citizen/natural born citizen issue; they focused on the rumors that Obama was born in Africa. The crank legal theories were never embraced by Clinton’s followers including their most prominent member, Phil Berg. It never existed in that group, so it was never dropped.If ignorance is bliss, then you must be very, very happy right now.

    Dr. C is right that HRC herself never made the hint that Barack Obama was ineligible.

    However, one of her campaign leaders, Mark Penn seems to be the source behind some of the early emails and a few dog-whistle tactics casting aspersions of Obama as “the other”. There was definitely some “race baiting” there. It should be noted that Mark Penn was eventually “let go” from the campaign…but not until after some damage had been done. Mark Penn is definitely a manipulative slime ball and knew what he was doing and what audience he was playing to.

    Some of the PUMAs were (are) also clearly racist, based on their posts.

  18. avatar
    Scientist May 9, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    bob strauss: “I challenge you to provide a citation prior to then.”
    Phillip Berg filed his lawsuit against Obama in August 2008.

    Berg has never supported the “2 citizen parent/dual citizen theory”.In fact, he has said if Obama was born in Hawaii and never lost his citizenship, then he is eligible.

  19. avatar
    Whatever4 May 9, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    bob strauss:
    Scientist May 9, 2011 at 8:47 am(Quote) #

    “I challenge you to provide a citation prior to then.”
    Phillip Berg filed his lawsuit against Obama in August 2008.

    But in spite of listing every other possible theory, Berg never mentioned the two-citizen parent theory. Here’s the Complaint: http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/pennsylvania/paedce/2:2008cv04083/281573/1/

  20. avatar
    Lupin May 9, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    A long while ago I provided a link to an internet version of Brigadier General George Gordon’s Prescript, or the Ku Klux Klan dogma, with references to specific sections of it that defined “natural born citizens” as essentially one born of two white christian parents.

    You will find that most of Mario’s legal theories are rooted in there. I do not know if he and/or Donofrio have had any contacts with the KKK or similar extreme right wing/racist organizations, of course, but Mario has always steadfastly refused to deny it.

    I think this is a very important part of the agenda behind the birther agenda.

  21. avatar
    G May 9, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    bob strauss: “I challenge you to provide a citation prior to then.”
    Phillip Berg filed his lawsuit against Obama in August 2008.

    Bob,

    I think you are missing the point of the conversation in this thread. No one is denying Phil Berg or his lawsuit back in August of 2008. Trust me, we are all well aware of Phil Berg and can tell you the history and detail of ALL the birther cases. In fact, you can look through the archives here and get the info on just about all of them.

    This conversation thread is focusing on the impetus of the “2 citizen parent” theory. That was NOT part of Berg’s suit.

    As stated, Leo Donofrio originated that nonsense in October of 2008, after the primaries had been well over and the general election was in its final weeks.

    Berg focused on claiming that Obama was born in Kenya and that the COLB was fake. Nothing whatsoever about Vattel or changing the definition of NBC.

    As I said, you can find extensive detail on all of this on this site. If you want a more generic standard source, Wikipedia has a fairly good summary as well:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_citizenship_conspiracy_theories

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_presidential_eligibility_litigation

  22. avatar
    Rickey May 9, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    I agree that there is a heavy dose of racism running through the birther movement, but my observation is that the most prevalent disorder among birthers is paranoia. Check out this blog – a handshake between Obama and an Air Force general, and an exchange of something between them, sets off the birthers into mind-numbing, bizarre rants. Did you know that Obama now requires members of the military to read the Koran?

    http://conservativebyte.com/2011/05/video-captures-obama-in-secretive-exchange-of-notes-with-air-force-general/

  23. avatar
    G May 9, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Rickey: I agree that there is a heavy dose of racism running through the birther movement, but my observation is that the most prevalent disorder among birthers is paranoia. Check out this blog – a handshake between Obama and an Air Force general, and an exchange of something between them, sets off the birthers into mind-numbing, bizarre rants. Did you know that Obama now requires members of the military to read the Koran? http://conservativebyte.com/2011/05/video-captures-obama-in-secretive-exchange-of-notes-with-air-force-general/

    Paranoia & “conspiracy thinking” is definitely a key factor, as has been mentioned before… for some pure anti-government types, paranoia for paranoia’s sake might be the actual motivation.

    However, I suspect there is a lot of bigotry motivating much of the paranoia out there.

  24. avatar
    Whatever4 May 9, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Rickey:
    I agree that there is a heavy dose of racism running through the birther movement, but my observation is that the most prevalent disorder among birthers is paranoia. Check out this blog – a handshake between Obama and an Air Force general, and an exchange of something between them, sets off the birthers into mind-numbing, bizarre rants. Did you know that Obama now requires members of the military to read the Koran?

    http://conservativebyte.com/2011/05/video-captures-obama-in-secretive-exchange-of-notes-with-air-force-general/

    It’s a Challenge Coin exchange, for heaven’s sake. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/vp/28663038#28663038

  25. avatar
    Rickey May 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Whatever4: It’s a Challenge Coin exchange, for heaven’s sake.

    You are correct, no doubt about it. Those afflicted with ODS find something sinister in everything that Obama does.

  26. avatar
    Kevin May 9, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    What kind of fool would make accusation when it is clear that they have no facts, Trump real screwed himself.

    1 = US President,
    0 = Bin Laden/ Birthers/ Trump/ Huckabee

  27. avatar
    aarrgghh May 12, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    via blogger oliver willis:

    “President Obama is the living embodiment of the Heathcliff Huxtable ideal. He’s done all the right things, went to the right schools, been elected State Senator, U.S. Senator and for Christ’s sake President of The United States. But to them he’s still a “cocky” militant negro who got where he is out of affirmative action and white guilt and hey was he really born in the USA?

    There’s no satisfying them. Nothing he can do will ever make them see anything other than a black guy dirtying up their White House. So be it. Eventually evolution works this mess out.”

    still, obama’s skin tone is only half the problem. the other half is that he never became a republican.

    (which further proves how smart he is.)