"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
-President Obama, Election Day Speech November 2008
"A natural born citizen is a person born with unalienable and undivided allegiance to the United States of America. And this is something the current occupant of the Oval Office never had. "-From The Birthers website
Call me unpatriotic. Call me unAmerican.
Before today, I was one of those people that snickered at the foolishness of the "birthers"--so dedicated to getting their hands on Obama's birth certififcate, questioning the legitimacy of his presidency on the grounds that he was not a natural born citizen. I believed that efforts of the birthers and their supporters were ultimately ineffectual-- stupid and racist, but really just a blip. But apparently, (and sadly) they held enough sway to finally obtain Obama's birth certificate and make it public. And we're supposed to be "post-racial?" Can you imagine just how much power this small group of "birthers" and supportive voters in states like Iowa have, to be able to sit there and have their petulant, ludicrous demand met? The thought itself makes me shudder.
Today we saw a shining example of the twisted paradox that is the United States of America. In one moment we uplift our "multicultural" history as a part of the Great American Melting Pot (and parade it around the world and actually have the audamndacity to judge other people on how badly they're doing on civil rights and justice) and in another moment we scrutinize the leader of our country-- the praised "American son," the oft-celebrated "embodiment of the melting pot" and demand that he produce cold hard proof that he is indeed a natural born citizen of the United States of America. Obama produced his birth certificate in an attempt to finally shut down the birther's once and for all, and to perhaps reveal their foolishness and demonstrate that amidst the countless more significant issues facing our world and country today, the matter of a simple piece of paper has consumed so much time and effort. Incredulously, even after the document was released, there are still those that believe the certificate was forged.
Today, was proof (not that we needed it) to many of us-- people of color, immigrant mothers and fathers, immigrant daughters and sons that our claim to citizenship and belonging is not stable... it is contested and delegitimized at every turn from the seemingly benign inquiries about where we're really from from? to the same insidious hand of white nationalist supremacy that publicly questions the legitimacy of President Obama's black body--his mixed body and it's belonging in this nation.
You don't have to be an avid Obama supporter to recognize the blatant racism that underlies the "birth" issues ( Funny how no one is asking Senator John McCain for his birth certificate. He was born in Panama). This preoccupation with Obama's birth is in no way an isolated issue,-- a hiccup in our post-racial paradise-- but rather, a reminder that rhetoric such as this has been inscribed in the very nation-building history of our country. In my course today we covered mixed Asian-America and discussed the "mixed" experience of simply living on the hyphen, always having to validate the "American" part of your identity with other qualifiers like Native American (this is the one that gets me the most), African American, Japanese American, Mexican American. "American", apparently cannot stand on it's own and histories of exclusion and violence against communities of color as well as outright denial of citizenship time and time again have buttressed this need for constant acts of identification.
Later for the genocide and colonization of indigenous peoples who have long lost any "legitimate" claims to the land we now call the "United States" save for the reservations on which they were (dis)placed. Later for the millions of Africans who were brought forcibly to the Americas and on whose backs and labor we built a powerful empire. Later for the millions of immigrants who have claimed America as home and have labored for this country over generations. Later for all those who checked their heritage, histories and languages at the borders in order to access the elusive American dream/myth. Are these people and their descendants not part of the nation? Have they not proven their worth? Apparently not....
Must we be perpetual foreigners? Must our bodies always be markers of our difference? Will we forever be outsiders within?
I guess today, I'm angry and defeated. Tomorrow, I'll pick up the pieces and remember Obama's words--(however, cheesy and full of fuzzy feel good liberal multi-culti rhetoric) back in early 2008 and remember that the struggle continues and that I stand on the shoulders of those before me. Those who painstakingly carved a space for me to exist as a young woman of color in the 21st century. That space was not freely granted or written into the founding laws of this country, but it was fought for and will continue to be fought for as long as racism and injustice are the order of the day. Tomorrow, I'll pick my torch back up, move forward and resist.
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.