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The Carletonian

Birtherism’s real anxiety

<n we put this issue to rest now? On Wednesday morning, President Obama surprised a lot of people by suddenly releasing his long-form birth certificate, which, of course, showed that he was born in Hawaii. In explaining why he
had decided to release it now, Obama explained that the issue had simply become too much of a distraction. There are more important things to do, and it is a waste of everyone’s time to be dwelling on this, he said.

But will facts make this go away? Doubtful. And the reason is because this conspiracy theory always had less to do with doubting the physical place where Obama was born and more to do with a deep discomfort about who he is and what he represents. Whether it is a dislike of his policies and party, racism, or a combination of the two, the birther idea is just the manifestation of a deeper dislike of Obama.

For one, there is little mistake that the conspiracy is a highly partisan one. While polling shows that about a quarter of Americans think the president was not born in the United States, around 45 percent of Republicans, and Tea Partiers, do not think he was. Furthermore, another poll showed that half of Republican primary voters do not think he is a natural born citizen. People who hate him politically need an excuse to make up for the fact that he beat them, and developing conspiracy theories is a convenient way to do so.

However, aside from the poor loser syndrome, there is also an unmistakable uneasiness in the birther ranks with Obama himself. Although the fact our president is the son of a Kenyan man, and spent much of his childhood in a Muslim country on the other side of the world, is of great pride to me, it also signifies a departure for many from they think America is all about.

To me, Obama’s presence in the oval office signifies the idea that anyone can make it in this country and that, although we surely have a long way to go, we are undoubtedly on an upward arc towards being a more just, open, and accepting society. However, this isn’t how the birthers feel, and to deny that racism is at the core of the conspiracy movement seems to me to be pure folly. Simply put, there is no doubt in my mind that if we had a white president with an absent parent from Christian Europe, there would be few questions about his eligibility.

In addition to the plain dislike of having a black man as president, what doubts about Obama’s birthplace also signify is a deep xenophobia in parts of this country. It is the attitude that goes deeper than just believing in American exceptionalism; it is the belief that America has nothing to learn from anyone else, that we have all the answers, and that it is un-America to suggest that there is value in other ways of life.

President Obama’s upbringing was unique in that he was constantly immersed in different cultures and surrounded by different perspectives. Whether it was reconciling his biracial identity, spending years of his childhood in Indonesia, or visiting his family in Kenya later in his life, Obama has grown up with a distinct sense that there is not one right way to do things. He has learned that although Judeo-Christian America is beautiful for all of its many strengths, there are peoples in the world who come from different traditions that have things to offer as well.

Obama represents the international America, the America that will soon be a majority minority nation. He represents an America that is constantly changing, one that is adapting to a world where more countries have the power to make their voices heard and have their demands met. This America is the antithesis of the birther America.

In response to the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate, Donald Trump and other birthers demanded that they wanted to see his college transcripts to make sure that he had deserved to get into Columbia and eventually Harvard Law School—the suggestion being that he owes his success not to his own abilities, but simply because he is the product of affirmative action educational policies.

Obama’s success to many represents the end of a white Anglo centric world. By growing up in a different environment than many other Americans, Obama’s success sends the signal that no group of people—whether we are split up ethnically, culturally, religiously, or what have you—has any monopoly on greatness. For a large segment of the conservative movement in this country, that idea is absolutely terrifying, and no amount of proof of Obama’s American roots is likely going to change that.

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