Yesterday, I wrote a diatribe to the MSM about my fury at having to watch the President of the United States present his free papers to Donald Trump and the birthers. I was righteous as I pulled my rusty pitchfork out of the garden shed and went to town on the MSM. Oh, it felt good to have the fury burn through me.
Underneath all that anger, however, was a deeper emotion. One that was much harder to reveal: Pain. Grief. An almost-unbearable heartbreak. Watching the President of the United States justifying his citizenship hurt me in a visceral way. There is a thread over at Balloon Juice comparing the way Obama’s been treated to the way Clinton was treated. The basic message was, Democratic presidents have always had to deflect vicious criticism, rumors, and lies. A few people of color tried to explain why this was different while also acknowledging that yes, all Democratic presidents have been demonized. Here is my comment as a few people vocally appreciated it in that thread and the thread above it:
Republicans will delegitimize any Democratic president. This is true. It’s just, for those of us not white, talking about the racism THIS president faces as tangential or just another tactic or part of the same-old same-old does not sit well. As I explained to a friend last night, it’s personal. The most accomplished black manin this fucking country had to show his fucking papers. A thoroughly mediocre, stupid, and loathsome white man who would have been slinging burgers and asking if you want fries with that were it not for his good fortune of being born to an incredibly rich man is PROUD to question this president about his (Obama’s) heritage, grades, and whatever. And, the fucking media are only too happy to lap it up without calling it for what it really is.
Yesterday was heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time for many people of color. I think that is what is being overlooked in this thread.
I had a few immediate responses, and I made a second comment to clarify my thoughts. To my surprise, I was in tears–and not for the first time since Obama released his LFBC. In that second comment, I said that while I DO know all Democratic presidents have been attacked, demonized, and discredited, this hurt in a purely personal way. Therefore, I can’t focus on the bigger picture of how this is yet one more attack on a Democratic president using race as chum. So, I stepped out of the thread.
This is not an intellectual exercise to me. Right now, I can’t have the discussion about where this fits in the bigger political picture. This fucking hurts.
My esteemed colleague, ABL, posted this haunting video yesterday:
What he said really struck a chord in me.
I am the daughter of two immigrants. Neither of them were citizens when I was born, nor were they permanent residents. And yet, I am an American citizen because I was born in Minnesota. My brother and I did not have to be naturalized as my parents did. We are Americans.
And yet, because I am Asian and because I grew up in Minnesota in the seventies/eighties, I have always been the outsider. In elementary school, I was constantly teased. I was called a jap and a chink, and I was this weird other at a time and place where minorities were few and far between. In junior high, I was told to go back to where I came from and that my parents were stealing all the jobs. In college, I was constantly asked where I was from, and when I answered with my hometown in Minnesota, I would receive the inevitable, “No. Where are you REALLY from?” I was complimented on my English, and it’s the only language I speak fluently.
I was constantly reminded that I was the other, not American, not native, not one of us. The racism I have experienced during my life is different than that of a black person. It’s more subtle for the most part and of a different nature. The one part of it that has been the most hurtful to me is the assumption that I am not American. My father left this country almost two decades ago to return to Taiwan because he felt he could only go so far as Taiwanese American man. He was in middle management at the local power company, and he was frustrated because he couldn’t advance any higher. Today, he is the president of the Taiwanese Institute of Economic Research and an economic consultant to the vice president of Taiwan. My mom followed in my father’s footsteps once she got her Psy.D. (doctorate in clinical psychology, for application rather than research-based) and is the foremost expert on sandplay therapy in Taiwan. She has a waiting list of two years of social service workers who want to be trained by her. Neither of my parents found adequate opportunities in the States, so they returned to their homeland of Taiwan, and now, they are flourishing there.
I could have dual citizenship if I want, but Taiwan is definitely not my home. For better or worse, America is. And yet, I have never felt as if this is my country. When we as a country elected Barrack Hussein Obama as president, I was PROUD of my country for the first time in my life. Michelle Obama got a lot of flak for saying something similar, but I knew exactly what she meant. For once, an ‘other’ had been elected president. For once, all that fucking hard work and that exceptional life paid off. A black man was president of the country, ya’ll, and I wept in sheer joy.
I knew racism wasn’t over, not by a long shot. I had seen Palin whip her base into a frenzy over the fear of a Kenyan Mooslim terrorist usurper taking over the White House, but damn it, the Kenyan Mooslim usurper had won. That counted for something–it counted for a lot. Still, I was on tenterhooks waiting for the backlash I knew would appear. There was a sizable portion of the country who was not comfortable with a black man in charge, and the racism was off and running.
When the Lipton Tea ‘baggers started talking about taking their country back and when the birthers kept going on and on with their crazy speculations as to the citizenship of Obama, it brought up all the alienation I felt as a yellow child in a very white land. I looked at these white, bitter, mostly-older white people who may or may not have a higher education, who may or may not have ever left their state, who may or may not have a successful career, home life, personal friendships, and I saw them hating on a man who has made so much of himself, simply because that man was black.
No other president has had to produce evidence two-and-a-half years into his term that he was an American citizen. And then, to add insult to injury, some on the left (of course there are going to be people on the right criticizing Obama. That’s a given) are taking him to terms for taking so long to produce it. Again, it’s the black man’s fault that he didn’t satisfy the white man’s curiosity properly.
I am an American. I should not have to prove that to anyone. If I were to run for president for real, I should not have to dig out the long form of my birth certificate to prove I’m an American. I should be able to present what every other candidate has presented and that should be that.
What happened to President Obama yesterday put every person of color on notice: The burden of proof is upon us. We are guilty until we can prove we are innocent. Now, it can be argued that this was true before yesterday. And, of course, it was in many little ways. However, for the first time, it’s been codified in the mainstream that it is legitimate to question the citizenship of a president if s/he isn’t white. This is the papers, please law in Arizona on a national scale. The message is, “You are here on our sufferance. We get to decide if you are American or not. We get to decide if you measure up.” ’We” being Donald Trump. ’We’ being white America. ’We’, not being…well, me.
President Obama handled it with dignity, humor, and class, as I’ve come to expect from him.
I haven’t been handling it nearly as well.
P.S. In between the time I started this post and finished it, my esteemed colleague, Emily, wrote this post about the whole papers, please fiasco, highlighting the reactions of black bloggers/pundits/etc. It’s well-worth a read.
P.P.S. The second video is by Vienna Teng, who is Taiwanese American like me.