When Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected president on Nov. 4, 2008, the world largely viewed it as a boon to race relations. After all, if the country could transcend its ugly racial history to elect a biracial black man president, wasn’t it a sign that the U.S. had come full circle as far as race relations were concerned? While no one of sound mind argued that Obama’s historic election meant that racism had vanished in the U.S., many did regard it as a sign that strife between the nation’s racial groups had dissipated to such a degree that Americans were willing to cross the color line in the voting booth, a remarkable achievement considering that race has traditionally colored election outcomes.
Since President Obama has taken office, however, he’s been the target of racist illustrations, conspiracy theories and so forth. Can you name any of the tactics used to attack Obama on the basis of race? The list below outlines three of the most racist political attacks against President Obama.
The Birther DebateThroughout his presidency, Barack Obama has been dogged by rumors that he’s not really an American by birth. Instead, the “birthers” as the people spreading this rumor are now known believe that the president was born in Kenya. This is presumably because, although Obama’s mother was a white American, his father was a black Kenyan national. His parents met and married in the United States, though. This is why the birther conspiracy is largely considered silly at best and racist at worst
That’s because so-called birthers have consistently neglected to accept as valid the documentation released by Obama that proves he was born in Hawaii. The birther movement “has little to do with reality and everything to do with the strangeness of Obama’s background. When Donald Trump repeated the claims of birthers, the president responded by releasing his long form birth certificate.
Political Caricatures of ObamaBefore and after his election to the presidency, Barack Obama has been painted time and time again as subhuman in graphics, email transmissions and posters used to undermine him. While it’s nothing new for politicians to be turned into caricatures, the ones used to criticize Obama frequently have racial overtones. The president has been portrayed as a shoeshine man, an Islamic terrorist and a chimp, to name a few. The image of his altered face has been shown on a product called Obama Waffles in the manner of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben.
The depictions of Obama as ape-like have arguably sparked the most controversy, considering that blacks have been portrayed as monkey-like for centuries to suggest that they’re inferior to other groups. Still, remember when Marilyn Davenport, an elected official in the Republican Party of Orange County, Calif., circulated an email depicting Obama and his parents as chimps, she initially defended the image as political satire.
The “Obama Is Muslim” ConspiracyMuch like the birther debate, the debate over whether Obama is a practicing Muslim appears to be racially tinged. While the president did spend some of his youth in the predominantly Muslim country of Indonesia, there’s no evidence that he himself has practiced Islam. In fact, Obama has said that neither his mother nor his father were particularly religious. In his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father, Obama describes his decision to become a Christian during his time as a political organizer on Chicago’s South Side. He penned the memoir long before he landed onto the national political scene and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, giving him little reason to declare himself a Christian if he were really a Muslim.
Like the birther movement, the Muslim conspiracy movement against Obama highlights the fact that the president’s different. He has a “funny name,” a so-called exotic upbringing and Kenyan heritage. Rather than point out their distaste for these differences, some members of the public find it convenient to label Obama a Muslim, which serves to marginalize him and undermine his fitness to lead the nation.
Not every attack against President Obama is racist, of course. Some of his detractors take issue with his policy alone and not with his skin color. When the president’s opponents use racial stereotypes to undermine him or suggest that he’s lying about his origins because he’s different, biracial, bred outside of the continental U.S. and born to a Kenyan father with a “strange name” an undercurrent of racism is often at play. As former President Jimmy Carter said in 2009: “When a radical fringe element of demonstrators begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American.