FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Birth, Language and Citizenship

by GYANENDRA PANDEY

The ‘birthing’ controversy is news again. Is the President really American? He doesn’t really look it! Or always act like he is: remember the Barrack-Michelle closed-fist salute?

I moved to the US from India fourteen years ago, and am still struck by the prejudices that persist in both these great democracies about those deemed natural citizens and those who repeatedly need to prove their credentials.

Two decades ago, in the controversy leading up to the destruction of a beautiful 16th century mosque in the north Indian town of Ayodhya, the Muslims of India were asked to demonstrate that they were truly Indian – by accepting ‘the Hindu ethos’ of the majority religious community. Less than ten years ago, a leading American political scientist, the late Samuel Huntington, asked something similar of Mexican immigrants to the United States. “There is no Americano dream,” he wrote. “There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.” (Who Are We, 2004)

A Jewish American, Hillel Levin, wrote in 2006 of how he was “always aware of my minority status within the dominant secular and/or Christian culture.” About the same time, John T. Molloy’s self-help manual, New Dress for Success, observed that the “model of success” in the country is “white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant”, and advised African Americans men to avoid “Afro hairstyles” and to wear “conservative pinstripe suits, preferably with vests”, and Latinos (men, again) to avoid “pencil-line mustaches”, “any hair tonic that … give(s) a greasy or shiny look”, and “any articles of clothing that have Hispanic associations.”

These examples serve to indicate the demands that continue to be made on minorities, not only Muslims in India and Latina/Latino migrants to the USA, but Jews, blacks, Native Americans and others. Even after many members of these groups have reached the point where they do not need to hide aspects of their caste or racial ancestry, the call for conformity to ‘mainstream’ norms continues to bedevil individual lives and careers – not excluding that of the American President.

The challenge extends from claims about Barack Obama’s supposed foreign birth to accusations that he is a closet Muslim, a traitor, even a supporter of terrorists. Thus Rush Limbaugh: “I have not (called him) Imam Hussein Obama…. Imam Barack Hoover Obama is the correct nomenclature.” “Why did I start calling him Imam Obama?” It was “the natural thing to do when he came out in favor of the mosque [the proposed private Muslim community center near Ground Zero in New York, which became notorious as the ‘mosque’ controversy]. It’s no different than calling it the Hamasque, because Hamasque [from Hamas] has come out in favor of the mosque.”

The number of Americans who believe the President is Muslim is increasing, writes Limbaugh. “Imam Obama is becoming more well-known and the media can’t protect him….” However much leftists, liberals and other ‘un-American’ types try to hide who they really are, he goes on to say, “the truth is eventually gonna surface.” More: “we are a great country at risk in a dangerous world. We have threats external and internal. And it is not a good sign. It is not something healthy for the American people to not know what religion their president is, … where he’s been and who he is, it’s not healthy, it’s not good.” “It is inconceivable,” as an editorial in one national newspaper put it, “that this campaign to portray Mr. Obama as the insidious ‘other’ would have been conducted against a white president.” (New York Times, April 28, 2011)

Consider one other example of this right-wing understanding of the ‘natural’ American, and the healthy and good society. In a book entitled The Roots of Obama’s Rage (2010) which drew praise, among others, from the erstwhile Speaker of the US House of Representatives and recent candidate for the Republican nomination for President, Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D’Souza declares that “America is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s [Luo being the Kenyan tribe Obama’s father came from]. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions [sic], is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.” One can understand President Obama, writes D’Souza, only “if (one) understands Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”

The call is this: “Imam Barack Hussein Obama: take yourself, and your crazy, socialist ideas back to where you/they come from” – Africa, or Indonesia, or wherever. Not quite on par with the extremist Hindu right-wing’s demand of Muslims in India, “Babar ki santan/Jaao Pakistan ya Kabristan” (“Descendants of [the Mughal Emperor] Babar: go to Pakistan, or to the grave”). There is no parallel foreign country to which people of African descent in the US may be banished, even ideologically. Yet the attack is not altogether different in its effect.

The requirement of conformity persists, but to what is not always spelled out. It is important to uncover the implicit assumptions. To be ‘American’, and to be automatically recognized as American, we need to be white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male and English-speaking. “There is no Americano dream,” as Huntington puts it. Nor any African American or Native American dream. “There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.” Between this, and the possibility of a composite, evolving American dream, the choice is ours.

Gyanendra Pandey is Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor in the Department of History at Emory University, 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail