Monday, 19 September 2016

The -ism Series (27): Birtherism

"(slang, often pejorative, US politics) A movement or policy in the United States of America that doubts or denies that the current President is a natural-born U.S. citizen, thus implying that he (...)  is ineligible to be President."

Birtherism, also known as "Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories", evolved during Obama's campaign for president in 2008. Rumours circulated that he was not a natural-born citizen of the United States, hence not eligible to be President of the United States. The theories ranged from him being born in Kenya to holding Indonesian or British citizenship.

"(...) the whole birther movement was racist."
Colin Powell

And as people susceptible to conspiracy theories tend to believe whatever fits into their reality, these theories did not stop after a short form of Obama's official Hawaiian birth certificate was released in 2008, neither after releasing a long form birth certificate in 2011 (yes, there had also been theories about why "only" the short form had been released). According to a poll carried out in 2008, a third of Republicans believed Obama was not born in the U.S. A poll carried out in 2009 showed that 11% did not believe he was born in the U.S., while 12% were unsure. Poll results from 2010 show that at least one quarter of adult US-Americans still doubted Obama's US birth.
Two demographic groups are more strongly represented among the "birthers", i.e. Republicans and Southerners. According to a survey, 58% of Republicans believed that Obama was not born in the U.S. or not sure about it while 93% of Democrats did not express any doubts. Only 47% of those polled in the South believed Obama was natural-born compared to 90% of residents of the Northeast, Midwest and West. A survey carried out in Virginia showed that only 32% of Republicans thought he was born in the U.S. A poll carried out in Utah in 2009 collected more information on demographics: The 33% that did not believe he was natural-born were "predominantly middle-aged, lower-income Republican-leaning individuals without a college education". Two years later, in 2011, a Gallup poll found that 13% of US-American adults and 23% of US-American Republicans continued having their doubts. In 2012, 3 out of the 11 electors from Arizona who cast their votes for Mitt Romney still had their doubts (via).
"While racial conservatives and partisan Republicans provide fertile ground for birther beliefs, it is also clear that those beliefs are influenced by their levels of education. (...) education is statistically and negatively correlated with birtherism, indicating that those with higher levels of education are less likely to believe in birtherism. On the other hand, birtherism is not just the result of ignorance." (Klinkner, 2014)

"Goldie Taylor, a commentator for the African American news site The Grio, characterized the demand that Obama provide his birth certificate as an equivalent of making him "show his papers", as blacks were once required to do under Jim Crow laws. Sociologist Matthew W. Hughey has cited many of the claims as evidence of racial "othering" of Obama against the conflation of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) subject as the ideal and authentic American citizen." (Wikipedia)
In his analysis of birthers, Klinkner (2014) found "several salient characteristics", i.e., "overwhelmingly white", "concentrated heavily among Republicans", and "much more prevalent among racial conservatives". The author used four questions of the racial resentment battery that is based on the view that "blacks do not try hard enough to overcome the difficulties they face and that they take what they have not earned". Half of all birthers were located in the three highest categories of racial resentment, compared to only 22% of the population.
"Powell is right. Birtherism is racism. The lie that the president was not born in America was an attack on the legitimacy of America’s first black president. The lie that the president is a Muslim is a play for votes based on bigotry against Muslims and fear of Muslims—which is based on another lie, that Muslims as a group should be tarred as terrorists when the truth is the exact opposite." (Observer)
"According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, "the birther movement has gained a large following on the radical right ... it has been adopted by the most noxious elements out there". Some of those "noxious elements" include a number of avowed white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. James Wenneker von Brunn, an avowed white supremacist charged as the gunman in the June 10, 2009, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting, had previously posted messages to the Internet accusing Obama and the media of hiding documents about his life." (Wikipedia)

"Dear Betty, you look so fantastic and full of energy, I can't believe you're 90 years old. In fact, I don't believe it. That's why I am writing to ask if you are willing to produce a copy of your long form birth certificate."
Barack Obama's birthday card to Betty White in 2012 (via)

- Photographs of Barack Obama via and via and via and via
- Klinkner, P. (2014): The Causes and Consequences of "Birtherism". Paper presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Western Political Association; online