Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crash Course in Black History: New N****r Rule

By now you've heard that President Obama has released his "long form" birth certificate in order to quell the two-year-old conspiracy theory that a liberal cabal has managed to pull off the greatest case of identity fraud in human history.

Honestly, before I get into the meat of this post, I just want to say that this was the most preposterous allegation/conspiracy theory I have ever heard. The JFK assassination Cuba-Mafia-KGB conspiracy, the 'faked' Moon landing and '9/11 was an inside job' (aka "Truthers") all have more plausible premises--and they are all bullshit too. To have pulled this off, one would have needed to plan, implement, and maintain a flawless conspiracy over the course of four decades between multiple state agencies of Illinois and Hawaii, his posh private school in Hawaii, two Ivy League schools, the Illinois Bar Association, the government of Kenya and/or Indonesia, the Social Security Administration, the State Department, the IRS and god knows what other federal departments and kept it all a secret.

Elvis and Tupac are sitting on a beach somewhere saying "They can't really believe this shit, can they?"

Anyway, a recurring complaint from the Right since the release this morning has been "I just don't get why he didn't release this sooner!" The quick answer is: because he shouldn't have to. This accusation was ridiculous on its face and for all the 'respect for the office' the Right likes to trot out when it suits them, addressing this idiocy really is beneath the president of the United States. But as my friend Adam Serwer so eloquently wrote over at WaPo's Plum Line today:

Aside from being one of the most idiotic moments in American political history, this marks a level of personal humiliation no previous president has ever been asked to endure. Other presidents have been the target of crazy conspiracy theories, sure, but few have been as self-evidently absurd as birtherism. None has been so clearly rooted in anxieties about the president’s racial identity, because no previous American president has been black.

This whole situation is an embarrassment to the country. Yesterday Jesse Jackson described birtherism as racial “code,” but there’s nothing “coded” about it. It’s just racism. I don’t mean that everyone who has doubts about the president’s birthplace is racist. Rather, the vast majority have been deliberately misled by an unscrupulous conservative media and by conservative elites who have failed or refused to challenge these doubts.

And birtherism is only one of a number of racially charged conspiracy theories that have bubbled out of the right-wing swamp and have been allowed to fester by conservative elites. Those who have spent the last two years clinging to the notion that the president wasn’t born in the United States, who have alleged that the president wasn’t intelligent enough to write his own autobiography or somehow coasted to magna cum laude at Harvard law, are carrying on new varieties of an old, dying tradition of American racism. Similar accusations dogged early black writers like Frederick Douglass and Phyllis Wheatley, whose brilliance provoked an existential crisis among people incapable of abandoning myths of black intellectual inferiority.
Indeed, asking more of black people than is asked of or expected from whites is as old as racism itself. Black 'pioneers' have always had to face extra challenges from people incapable of dealing with black achievement or legitimacy. The older generations of black folk would tell their kids--as my father told me--that black people should never try to be as good as our white counterparts: we must strive to be better because 'as good' would not be good enough. (Both because of my complexion and meaningful societal change over my lifetime, this has not been an academic or professional hindrance to me. But the message took.)

Such is the standard operating procedure to confront what has been called, most notably by comedian Paul Mooney, the "New Nigger Rule." My definition follows:
A NNR is a legal or administrative procedure which is enforced with benign pretense, yet has the demonstrable effect of abetting racism, prejudice, or otherwise just screwing the black guy. Historical examples include, but are not limited to, the Grandfather Clause, poll taxes, and literacy/constitutional knowledge tests to vote.
Nota bene: all of these are forms of disenfranchisement.

Mark Thompson of the League explains what Obama had to do to get his long form and make it public:
Quite literally, in order to release this document, the President had to ask to be treated as being above the law, even if it is a relatively trivial law in the grand scheme of things.  Quite understandably, the State of Hawaii decided that this was a wise idea.  That so many are prepared to insist that the President had an obligation to ask that he be treated as above the law from a very early date is far more troubling.
That Obama should have been expected to file a waiver to get an obscure document that no one else has had to produce and make it public to dispel a rumor based on absurd conjecture and outright lies is clearly a New Nigger Rule.

I agree with Adam that it would not be fair to call all Birthers "racists." Maligning or otherwise assigning such terms to groups of people is unproductive and usually wrong factually and morally. That said, there can be no question at all that Obama had to deal with this because he's black. That is a fucking shame, and that is why he didn't release it earlier.

And he never should have had to.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

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