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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Racism by any other name still smells as nasty

Marilyn Davenport might just be one of those older ladies who indiscriminately forwards emails she thinks are funny or cute to everyone she knows. Maybe that’s her excuse — poor forwarding etiquette — for the heinously racist image the 74-year-old Orange County Republican Central Committee member sent to fellow Republicans last week.

The email depicts President Barack Obama’s face, framed by outsized monkey ears, on a chimp’s body. He is sitting on the lap of a chimp dressed as a woman, presumably meant to be his mother, with a father chimp behind her. The email included the message “”Now you know why — no birth certificate!””

Though Davenport’s action is among the more stupid “”jokes”” made by so-called birthers — people who dispute Obama’s citizenship and the veracity of his birth certificate — it’s not as though thinly veiled racism within the movement is anything new. What’s shocking about the crazy birther conspiracy theories is that they’ve managed to become so mainstream.

First, let’s clear a few things up: Obama is an American citizen. He was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and an American mother. The certificate of live birth he has released to the public, which people are freaking out about because it’s a “”certified copy”” and apparently looks fake, is real. He’s not a British subject, as one of the wonkier birther theories goes, and he’s not a Kenyan.

So why has the birther movement gained so much traction? After all, Donald Trump’s probably phony presidential run only gained traction when he boarded the birther bandwagon. Now he’s leading the Republican primary polls. And Trump is no idiot — he knows the correlation between his sudden affinity for questioning Obama’s birth certificate and his sudden Tea Party popularity.

Although the Tea Party and its ilk cry foul whenever the charge is brought against them, the birther nonsense seems fundamentally about race. Maybe not in a strictly “”you hate the president because he’s black”” way — that’s an overly simplistic reading of complicated birther ethics.

But it is about the fact that the president doesn’t look like other presidents. His past — from a complicated home life to years spent abroad — isn’t like that of other presidents. His family doesn’t look like the first families the overwhelmingly upper-middle-class Tea Partiers are used to. And as uncomfortable as they are admitting it, this difference, this “”other””-ness, makes them uneasy.

So rather than engage in the down-and-dirty fact of their own racism, or at least their own racial discomfort, they created the birther myth. It taps into a host of American insecurities, including illegal immigration and the CIA movie myth of foreign agents infiltrating our government. The birther nonsense has gained traction because, though it’s never admitted, many non-whacko Americans harbor fears and prejudices associated with race. It’s a problem we don’t like to talk about anymore, but it hasn’t gone away.

The most important role of the crazy birther mythology is to give its adherents permission to judge, fear and hate the president because he doesn’t look like them. Even the most despised liberal leader, so long as he is white and male, isn’t subjected to this kind of nonsense. With Obama, birtherism and all its offshoots are just excuses for a deep-seated and repulsive racism.

So maybe Davenport, with her photoshopped chimpanzee president, deserves a little credit. At least that image directly addresses the racism inherent in the birther movement, rather than trying to obfuscate it with inane arguments about constitutionality and what “”certificate of live birth”” means. At least letting on that you associate the president with an age-old, horrendously offensive racial epithet is honest.

If that’s the only comfort in this situation, it’s a cold comfort indeed.

— Heather Price-Wright is the assistant arts editor for the Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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