By Lee A. Daniels
Special to the NNPA
If you think the Birthers have been chastened into silence, think again–and look to the past.
If you want to view the spiritual parents of the Birthers and their “carnival barkers,” look to the early 1960s–the years before the legislative victories of the Civil Rights Movement, when democracy in America was on the line.
If you want to understand how the carnival barkers can fool some people all of the time, look to the career of the most notorious of the race-mongering politicians of those years, the oily, cynical Alabama Governor George Wallace. Celebrity narcissist Donald Trump’s quick two-step away from the birther scam once the President produced the long form of his birth certificate to denigrating his superb academic achievements precisely echoes the “flexibility” of the 1960’s racist demagogues’ flim-flam that so bedazzled those Whites, North as well as South, who desperately based their sense of self-worth on feeling “superior” to Blacks.
In doing so, it powerfully illuminates the fundamental principle of 20th century White racist practices. As Boston Globe columnist James Carroll wrote this week, that is to make sure “The burden is always on blacks to prove what, in the case of whites, goes without saying. Prove innocence.
Prove eligibility. Prove rights. Prove competence. Prove that proof is genuine.”
So, I am grateful to the Birthers. They have performed a valuable service in puncturing the anesthetizing myth that the U.S. has somehow reached a “post-racial” stage of development. And, their antics and virulent anti-Obama rhetoric have also shattered an equally false myth that had gained currency during the last decade or so: that the civil rights struggle of the 60’s had great support among Whites, and that it was only a few “yahoos” and other “ignorant” Whites who were the problem.
It’s an extraordinary twist of fate that the Birthers would emerge to oppose the nation’s first Black president–who took office on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the final stage of Black Americans’ campaign for full citizenship–spouting loony conspiracy theories and fears of “socialism” that echo central tenets of the White-racist canon of the Jim Crow years. The allegation of those years against the Civil Rights Movement were as patently ridiculous–and pathetic–then as the ones put forward against Obama now. But, they were the reason why the immoral campaign of “massive resistance” fashioned by White Southern politicians and civic leaders in the wake of the 1954 Brown decision was so heavily dependent on the threat of and the carrying out of murderous assaults against southern Blacks and the Black and White “outside agitators” like the Freedom Rider who came to their aid.
For part of the wellspring of “massive resistance,” as of the entire doctrine of White supremacy, was a multi-layered fear. One layer of that fear was fear of Black Americans’ success–which meant that in White racism’s zero-sum framework, the success of any Black American had to be denigrated lest it undermine the very notion of White supremacy.
It stands to reason, then, that for those Whites still clinging to that bundle of pathology, Barack Obama (and Michelle Obama, too) represents the ultimate “threatening” Black American: no one better epitomizes the progress Black Americans have made since the civil rights victories of the 1960s expanded “opportunity” across the Color Line.
But, I say one ought to be inspired by the racist questioning of the President’s academic credentials–his matriculation at the Occidental College in California before transferring to finish college at Columbia; and then on to Harvard Law School, where he was elected president of the Harvard Law Review. I’m inspired because it will give us the opportunity to demand that all of his inquisitors and all candidates for the Presidency present their academic credentials–transcripts, significant undergraduate papers, and master’s and doctoral theses, and positions of honor attained.
That’s only fair, isn’t it?
In that way, this bit of “silliness” will show that Karl Marx’s adage about what happens when history repeats itself still obtains.
For what we’re now watching is farce.