I’m sure you have all heard by now that last week, after dealing with increased media publicity about questions regarding his U.S. citizenship, President Obama felt compelled to petition the state of Hawai’i to publicly release his long form Certificate of Live Birth that verifies that he was in fact born in the U.S. and is therefore eligible to be President. Below is a news clip of the story from NBC News:

As many observers point out, this release of the long form Certificate of Live Birth should appease many Americans who may have had a slight doubt about President Obama’s birthplace. However, it is not likely to convince “hardcore” birthers who will undoubtedly continue to question Obama’s status as an American, no matter what the evidence.

So let’s just cut to the chase: this “birther” movement is not really about Obama’s eligibility to be President. Rather, it just another example of the White Backlash that I have been describing for a while now and illustrates the resistance and difficulty that a number of White Americans still have about having a person of color as President and the larger context of demographic and cultural changes taking place in U.S. society. To summarize some of my earlier posts, several institutional trends are fundamentally changing U.S. society:

© James Noble/Corbis
  • The changing demographics of the U.S. in which non-Whites increasingly make up a larger proportion of the population and the projection that in about 35 years, Whites will no longer be a majority in the U.S.
  • The political emergence of non-Whites, best represented by the election of President Obama, and also illustrated by the growing Latino population.
  • The continuing evolution and consequences of globalization, the growing interconnections between the economies of the U.S. with other countries, and the economic rise of China and India.
  • The “normalization” of economic instability and how, even after this current recession ends, Americans will likely still be vulnerable to economic fluctuations that affect the housing market, stock market, and overall unemployment.
  • The unease about the U.S.’s eroding influence and military vitality around the world.

In basic terms, these institutional trends have led many (as always, meaning a large number but not all) White Americans to feel destabilized as their implicit and taken-for-granted position at the top of the U.S. racial hierarchy is increasingly being threatened — politically, economically, and socially. They are also afraid that, as the U.S. is starting to lose its position of being the dominant political, economic, and military superpower in the world, their standard of living — and hence, their identity — are being threatened in the process.

As social scientists document, whenever anybody or any group feels threatened, they tend to get defensive, reactive, and attempt to cling on to their privileges as much as possible. One mechanism by which they do so is to assert a more rigid cultural boundary between them and “others” — insiders vs. outsiders, us vs. them. In the case of the birther movement, this attempt revolves around differentiating between “real” Americans (in the traditional image of U.S. society — White, middle class, and Protestant) and those perceived as “fake” Americans — immigrants, people of color, and specifically, President Obama.

The birthers usually counter with accusations that critics like me are just “playing the race card” and that their questions about Obama’s status as an American have nothing to do with his race. Unfortunately the evidence is not in their favor. As observers and critics like Tim Wise have argued elsewhere, the racial overtones of the birther movement and the larger White backlash movement are overwhelming.

At this point, it is almost exasperating to list and recount every single example of the racist aspects of the birther and White backlash movement. So for now, perhaps the best way to illustrate this further is to use humor and satire. For that, I will turn to Stephen Colbert and his recent observations about this issue below — make sure you view the video through to the end — punchline is well worth it:

Following up on my earlier post entitled “White Backlash: Yes, It’s Real,” I will use this post to maintain a continually updated list of news stories that highlight and exemplify various examples of this kind of direct and indirect anti-minority, anti-’foreigner,’ and pro-’traditional American’ mentality and behavior that is increasingly on display throughout American society. The list in in reverse chronological order (most recent stories first). Also, feel free to mention any other examples I missed in the comments section at the bottom.

  • Islamophobia Reaches a Fever Pitch (August 2010)
    Racist and xenophobic opposition to a mosque near Ground Zero and calls by some Christian leaders to burn the Koran on 9/11 illustrates America’s rising hatred of Islam.
  • “Yup, I’m A Racist” T-Shirts for Sale (July 2010)
    Celebrate Independence Day 2010 by proudly proclaiming your racism and do your part to make racism cool.
  • U.S Hospital Fires 4 Filipina Nurses for Speaking Tagalog on Their Lunch Break (June 2010)
    Four Filipina ex-staffers of a Baltimore City hospital haven’t gotten over the shock of being summarily fired from their jobs, allegedly because they spoke Pilipino during their lunch break. . . “They claimed they heard us speaking in Pilipino and that is the only basis of the termination. It wasn’t because of my functions as a nurse. There were no negative write-ups, no warning before the termination,” [Nurse Hachelle Hatano] added.
  • South Carolina State Senator Calls President Obama a “Raghead” (June 2010)
    Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts refers to President Obama and Nikki Haley, a Republican gubernatorial candidate of Indian descent: “We’ve already got a raghead in the White House, we don’t need another raghead in the governor’s mansion.”
  • Arizona Passes Law Censoring Ethnic Studies Programs (May 2010)
    On the heels of the law that critics argue would legalize racial profiling against Latinos, Arizona’s new anti-ethnic studies bill “prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.”
  • Alabama Governor Candidate Declares “We Speak English” (April 2010)
    Tim James, Republican candidate for Governor of Alabama, releases a TV ad in which he declares, “This is Alabama; we speak English. If you want to live here, learn it” (you can watch the actual ad at the link above).
  • Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration (April 2010)
    Arizona’s new legislation would allow police to question anyone suspected of being an unauthorized immigrant. Critics charge that it basically amounts to legally-sanctioned racial profiling and plan demonstrations, boycotts, and lawsuits to protest and block its implementation.
  • Asian American Legislator Receives Racist Threats After Questioning Palin Visit (April 2010)
    California State Legislator Leland Yee summarizes the racist threats he received from Sarah Palin supporters after questioning her planned visit to a Cal State University campus.
  • John Jay College Accused of Bias Against Noncitizens (April 2010)
    The Justice Department files a lawsuit against John Jay College of Criminal Justice, accusing it of violating provisions of immigration law by demanding extra work authorization from at least 103 individuals since 2007.
  • McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation Irks Civil Rights Leaders (April 2010)
    The Governor of Virginia revives a dormant proclamation that April is “Confederate History Month,” with the initial version of his proclamation omitting any mention of slavery.
  • Male Studies vs. Men’s Studies (April 2010)
    A group of White male academics are trying to create a new academic discipline that highlights the ways in which males (by implication, White males) are apparently an underrepresented and oppressed group in contemporary American society.
  • Racist Fliers Distributed at UW-Oshkosh, St. Norbert College (March 2010)
    An example of how White supremacist hate groups are increasingly capitalizing on this White backlash.
  • UC Regents Sorry for Acts of Hate on Campuses (March 2010)
    Summarizing numerous racist incidents at numerous University of CA (UC) campuses, students and faculty try to get the UC Regents to see that racial ignorance and intolerance is a serious and endemic problem.
  • Meeting Space for Muslim Students at Brandeis is Vandalized (March 2010)
    On the heals of the racist incidents at the University of CA campuses, a newly renovated meeting space for Muslim students at Brandeis University is vandalized.
  • The Year in Nativism (March 2010)
    The Southern Poverty Law Center summarizes notable recent hate crimes against immigrants in 2008 and notes that nativist extremist groups have more than tripled in number, from 144 in 2007 to 309 in 2009.
  • Justice Department Fights Bias in Lending (January 2010)
    Under a new initiative from the Obama administration, the U.S. Justice Department begins targeting the rising predatory practice of “reverse redlining” aimed predominantly at minorities in which “. . . a mortgage brokerage or bank systematically singles out minority neighborhoods for loans with inferior terms like high up-front fees, high interest rates and lax underwriting practices. Because the original lender would typically resell such a loan after collecting its fees, it did not care about the risk of foreclosure.”
  • New Basketball League for Whites Only (January 2010)
    The “All-American Basketball Alliance” announces plans to create a minor league basketball league in which “only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league.”