Yesterday, the President of the United States did an unprecedented thing: He broke into broadcast schedules and in an unscheduled press conference, showed the world the piece of paper that proves what the world already knew to be true:
He was born in America.
I was in the car, in the midst of a million and one things, when the news came to me via NPR. I heard the term “long-form” and genuinely cracked up. “Long-form” has long been an inside joke of sorts between Angry Black Lady and her blogging minions — someone acts sketchy? We demand to see their long form. Someone refuses to be reasonable? Long-form!
I listened to what the President had to say, entirely approved of his use of the phrase “side-shows and carnival barkers,” and was incensed, if unsurprised, when I heard Donald Trump later crowing about his role in the whole sordid affair (not to mention his outrageous suggestion that he would have to set his eyes on the birth certificate personally before he would be convinced).This was a typical Obama move, frankly — POTUS is very good at separating his ego from the stupid and the trivial, tossing out bones that don’t matter, in order to protect that which does.
And I knew, just like all of us knew, that none of it would change a thing for most birthers — after all, when reason closes a door, crazy opens a window. I harbored some slim hope that Obama’s reveal might make Donald Trump go away, but didn’t really believe that slim hope to be a reasonable one. And lo – I was right.
What I did not anticipate, on any level, was how the whole sad story was playing among black Americans (update: By which I mean: I didn’t anticipate that watching the most powerful black man in history being forced to show his papers would resonate on such a deeply personal, grief-inducing level for an entire community of American citizens).
There are times in the life of a white liberal when she is smacked on the side of the head with the limitations of her understanding. There are times when a life spent trying to listen and comprehend proves not to have been enough, and new information, breathtaking information, is conveyed, and one’s breath is taken and held, as one stands before a chasmal gap, and listens to the voices on the other side.
This is a racism of the bone.
My ire is not so much for those who see their interests in that frame, but for the Very Serious People, who see nothing in the fact that those who are sorry that this country wasn’t cleaved in half by Genosha, and those who believe the first black president is a Muslim sleeper agent, are all at the same party. Who with a straight face chalk it up to the inexplicable vagaries of the human mind, or mere chance.
My ire is for those who claim to know better, but do not.
I am really pissed off and quite frankly hurting. Today President Obama released his long form birth certificate to answer questions about where he was born. I can’t remember this being an issue for any other American president or presidential candidate in recent history…. While Obama’s opponent in 2008, Senator John McCain, was in fact born in Panama, it is President Obama who was forced to prove he was born here.The message to all people of color, especially African American men is: “You are not good enough.”
One last point: It’s really amazing that we’re even talking about this. In a sane world, the President of the United States wouldn’t have to release personal information to quell conspiracies about his citizenship…. To a depressingly large number of Americans, “blackness” runs counter to this country’s identity, and an African American president is, by definition, illegitimate.
The Negro was made an American through the sin of slavery but kept this identity through the sacrifices of citizenship: taxes, military duty, labor, effort, patriotism and struggle. Few acts of racism elicit more disgust among black folks descended from eighteenth-century slaves than being told to “go back to Africa” by a white person whose American heritage goes back only to the twentieth century.When birthers accuse President Obama of not having a “real” birth certificate, they’re telling him to “go back to Africa.” It’s a taunt he’s able to dismiss because he knows exactly where and when he’s from. But for black Americans descended from slaves, to question one’s birth raises perhaps a more troublesome enigma: to be born in servitude to someone, but from nowhere.
The hardened historian in me wasn’t surprised, but I was struck by the sick theatre of a sitting president making special appeal to the state of Hawaii in the effort to prove not only that his election was legitimate, but that his citizenship is valid…. I was struck by the profound disappointment of the Obama generation at the state of black citizenship. I was thinking about horror of the president having to show his papers, echoing with the millions of migrant workers, documented and undocumented who have to show papers everyday and are never pre-supposed citizens.
It hurts more than I thought it would. I’m taking it more personally than perhaps seems rational, but I feel sucker-punched.
This has been a very difficult morning for me. I got the news that President Obama released his long-form birth certificate due to the increasing media circus surrounding claims that he is not one of us, that he is not American….
[Looking back at the history of the civil rights era], you’re reminded of the extraordinary sacrifice that has been involved in allowing all of Americans to exist as, be treated as, participate as, Americans — to be that which they are.
…[Civil rights activists] got on buses and freedom rides, they sat in, they died, in waves and waves of domestic terrorism, so that someone like me could go into a voting booth and not be asked, by some racist poll worker, to pay a tax… or pass a literacy test.
…And today, the President of the United States had to prove that he was an American to the satisfaction of the 75% of Iowa Republicans who doubt that, or the 43% of national Republicans who doubt that, or the one heinous, low-class individual who took credit for it after, Donald Trump.
…I find it hard to summarize in mere words the amount of pain and rage this incident has caused. It’s humiliating — not just to Barack Obama, not just to the office of the President, not just to black Americans and those who supported our quest for freedom. It’s embarrassing to the entire nation, that we would sit and let this happen. We have all been debased by this incident.
…My name is Baratunde Thurston. I’m heart-broken over this.
While I worry, deeply and daily, about what all this means for the President’s own safety, it’s clear that that’s far from the only worry. It’s clear that a great many of my fellow Americans still — even after members of their community have sat on the Supreme Court and made our laws and shaped our media discourse and been elected to the highest office in the land — do not feel fully free to “participate as Americans — to be that which they are.”
And that does, indeed, debase us all.