But Are You Sure He’s Not a Muslim?

If you somehow managed to pull yourself away from the extensive coverage of the royal wedding these past weeks, you may have also noticed that President Obama finally released his long-form birth certificate. Donald Trump, of course, immediately did his own press conference and stated that he was very proud of himself for causing this and believes Obama should release his college transcripts as well.

(What about elementary school, Mr. Trump? Are you sure we can let those go? National security is at stake here.)

While the reaction from most parties varied from disbelief that Obama had to take it this far so the country could finally move on to other issues (An intervention in Libya? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? The economy?), I believe the mass media has underestimated the birther movement and what it represents.

A birther protest; photo from The Atlanta Post

When people and the media say that the issue is simply about a person’s right to know their President’s background, the real problem at hand is being ignored. The U.S. public always had this right, but never before in its history has it been used before. This is probably because people realize that there are certain institutions in place to make sure every candidate meets the requirements to be President. The issue here is about who is considered inherently American and who is not.

Ever since Obama took office, he has constantly had to prove that he is on our side and not the “enemy’s”. Regardless of your opinion of his policies, it must be acknowledged that it has been much harder for him to “fit in” in the White House. Even after Obama released a short-form version of his birth certificate during his campaign, the doubts cast upon his nationality did not stop. Personally, I think all this is downright offensive. It seems funny to even think of Bush possibly being put through the same level of scrutiny that Obama has faced.

Some of it may have to do with Obama’s travels when he was younger (he lived in Malaysia for several years), but much of it is undeniably related to his skin color. It’s not just that he’s part African American though; it is that he is not white.

A (South Asian) friend of mine often talks about how annoying it is to get asked, “Where are you from?” and if she replies, “Flushing” or just “Queens,” the next question will be “No, I mean where are you really, originally from?” I realize that this happens to me a lot too. Moreover, I am guilty of it; if you’re, say, Asian, I’m much more likely to ask where you’re “from.”

The fact that the President of one of the most powerful nations in the world has been effectively portrayed as an outsider, simply because he doesn’t fit the typical President mold, only highlights our own shortcomings as a nation. The fact that prominent members of our government (and those who wish to be a part of it, unfortunately) feel comfortable broadcasting their support for the Birthers is even more terrifying. And the fact that 30% of those who participated in a poll said that the President’s birth certificate is not enough proof makes me want to book my one-way ticket to Canada right about now. (I’ll deal with the hockey somehow.)

Clearly, this issue is not just limited to African Americans — although there is definitely a longer history of alienation there that also needs to be examined. We must discuss whether being an American will be something advertised to everyone, but limited to the fair skinned. We have to acknowledge the other issues in play here too: obviously racism, but also xenophobia, and the steady movement towards the right in American politics, and begin to chip away at least at the first two through education.

If not, we should really take down the flashing “equality” sign we have set up outside.

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