Mitt Romney’s birther joke at a campaign event in Michigan on Friday injected new life into discussions on the birther movement, an issue that might be pretty funny if it weren’t still a racially-tinged and deeply-held truth for so many conservative extremists.
On Friday’s Hardball, host Ezra Klein spoke to Ta-Nehisi Coates, a Senior Editor at The Atlantic and author of “Fear of a Black President,” about Romney’s joke and President Obama’s silence on racial issues.
Klein began by adamantly stating that he doesn’t think Mitt Romney is racist or a birther, and pointed out that Romney has said he firmly believes Obama was born in America. Klein also noted that in his first two years as president, Obama has spoken less about race than any other Democratic President since 1961.
He asked Coates to comment on what he’s learned digging through the back context of birtherism and the role racialized controversies play in American politics, in light of Romney’s wisecrack.
Coates touched on some of the country’s more shameful moments in history, and said there’s a serious need for more constructive discussions of race:
“I’m sure it was a joke, I’m sure he meant no racial offense. But the fact of the matter is, the call of the birther critique is a questioning of citizenship. And the questioning of African-American citizenship is a long, old, and deeply disgraceful and often violent tradition that stretches back literally to the beginning of this country. You can take it from 1790 when Congress first defined what citizenship is, and strictly, straight out said it was only for white people…the notion that, given our particular history, that we would have a black president and there would be no blowback, and we would just take this in stride and it would end in 2008, is a little ludicrous.”
Coates expounded that he would like the president to say more, to actively fuel meaningful conversations on race, but we can’t completely blame him for not doing so:
“There’s a reason President Obama doesn’t talk about race. In a democracy, as the great quote goes, ‘you get the government you deserve.’ When you have an opposition party in which half the entire party believe the president of the United States was not born in America, and that half just so happens to be not fond of blacks, not too fond of people who weren’t born here – I’m not sure how much you can ask from them. The president represents the people. By the same token, Mitt Romney, as a presidential candidate, represents a group of people. So the real question is, why do so many Americans believe this? Why are we still having this discussion with such a broad swathe of our country?”