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.
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.
- Racism and Dred Scott
- Is racism the new “cool”?
- Comment at the Ledger-Enquirer
- The Bizarro Wikipedia
- Not funny
- Hal Turner convicted
- Reaping the whirlwind
This article is from the Understanding the Birthers series.