Is Barack Obama Finally an American?

The release of the president's birth certificate doesn't erase the understanding among African Americans that he -- and they -- have been deeply disrespected and are still cast as outsiders.

To those who are unable to accept the reality of a black U.S. president, Obama is a) a foreigner in power by subterfuge; b) an unqualified fraud who has been given special privileges that he did not earn or deserve; or c) a plant or puppet, serving the unspecified objectives — presumably evil — of some hidden group or force.

We shouldn’t forget the line of criticism that suggests he’s secretly a Muslim. Remember Tom Tancredo’s charge that Obama was “a greater threat to this country than al-Qaida”? What resonates for many black Americans is the realization that Obama, no matter how qualified and competent he is, is still viewed by a sizable percentage of his fellow Americans as a dangerous outsider — a usurper who holds the highest office in the land by subterfuge.

The saddest aspect of this is the news media’s role in promoting this line of discussion. Many news organizations have independently verified the president’s birth in Hawaii and his achievements, and yet they kept giving Trump a platform to spread his poison. Some of our media colleagues will argue that they had to cover the story, even if Trump was barely plausible as a candidate for president.

Would they have given the story the same attention if Trump had argued that Obama was an alien from outer space? We at The Root made clear that we thought the argument was specious and expressed our alarm that it continued, as did some other news outlets.

The idea that Obama “doesn’t belong” in the White House is a threat to our sense — as people of color, as newcomers, as immigrants — of being legitimate participants in the gorgeous mosaic of America. But it is also dangerous for the president, already the recipient of an unprecedented number of threats against his life.

Remember Rep. Gabrielle Giffords? For a brief moment we hoped that her tragic shooting had reset the civic discourse in this country. A recovering Giffords will be watching her husband soar into space on the last shuttle flight this Friday. If only our hopes for a better America could share that trajectory.

Joel Dreyfuss is The Root‘s managing editor.

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