Another comment about race

jimmycarterPresident Carter came out and said it: some of the noise around President Obama is because of race. Some of the people who attack him personally– not politically, mind you, not those who have a legitimate debate about his policies– but those who rant and yell and make outrageous and erroneous claims about his nationality or eligibility for office– are acting out of a deep and almost subconscious fear of men of color, or a belief that black people are inferior to white people.

Well, duh.

Frankly, I’m surprised we’re surprised about this. I doubt President Obama is surprised; I’m sure he prepared himself for worse, in fact. Joe Wilson making noise during a speech s small potatoes, actually. It’s the stuff that revolves around heritage and religion and nationality that is really hard to ignore. And it’s really racist. There’s no other word for it. It is based on assumptions about people because of what they look like, and creating a hierarchy in which some ‘races’ are inferior to others.

lyin signFor example: A sign this past weekend read “the zoo has an African [lion], and the White House has a lyin’ African.” I’d think that to be considered ‘African,’ it would be good to perhaps have lived at least a few years of his life on the continent. But see he *looks* African; he doesn’t *look* ‘merican because all Americans are white and have blue eyes and rugged builds and wear cowboy hats. Nor can he be considered to be from his state of origin, Hawaii; everyone knows Hawaiians go around bare-chested, wear leis, and have slanty eyes. Yikes, racism. And are we meant to *not* compare the President of the United States to a wild animal in that scenario, because I really can’t be sure. It’s like the wild gorilla political cartoon a while back (although there I’m on shaky ground because I definitely *did* compare President Bush to a monkey, but I want to be clear that that was not because I’m a racist but because I’m an intellectual elitist pig. Also, some of his expressions were a little simian).

And speaking of political cartoons and other clipart: I’ll be honest and say I didn’t get the watermelon thing. I grew up in the north in the post-post civil rights movement, and so I didn’t even know that there was some sort of stereotype about African American people and watermelon– no, I learned that from recent ‘humorous’ pictures of the whitehouse lawn covered in melons or ‘ObamaFoodStamps’ with melons on them. Classy, isn’t it, when one generation has to be re-taught the racial stereotypes of their grandparents’ day, because those stereotypes are back in use, addressing the leader of the free world. wow. Racist.

Claims that President Obama is a Muslim. Leaving aside for a moment that I would have no problem with the President of the United States being and adherent of Islam or any other–or no other– spiritual practice, again, this is another connection that I have a hard time getting. I sense, though, that it comes from a belief on some people’s part that christians are anglo-saxon. This would have come as a shock to the first Christians (not to mention Jesus), who probably ranged in skin tone from deep brown to quite tan, but would not by any means have been northern Europeans. And today, adherents of the Christian faith come in every shade of pigment we can imagine, rivaled in diversity only by the fastest-spreading religion on the planet, Islam. So why presume that a particular person practices a faith other than what he has publicly professed? He’s black so he can’t be Christian? Somebody needs to tell Al Sharpton. And Desmond Tutu.

But the real kicker for me are the ‘birthers.’ I can’t believe in this time and place that anyone is allowed to make such claims about the President’s birth place and not be called liar liar pants on fire racist bigot on the spot by a million bystanders. Question his law degree. Question his college diploma (goodness knows, I’ve wondered about Bush’s!). Question his meteoric rise to power. But wonder whether or not a half-century old birth certificate and birth announcement are faked? Insist that a man must have been born in Kenya because, what? I’m naming that for what I think it is: he doesn’t look like a *real* American. He’s black and all black people come from Africa. He can’t be allowed to be President because only people like us can be President. This is the height of racism-based fear and if folks aren’t red in the face about it with either anger or shame, then we have missed the point entirely.

(I really tried to remove all sarcasm from this, honestly. I read it through four times. But some things are so insanely wrong that totally polite speech fails me.)

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