Kind of Red

August 6, 2009

The Birth of a Nation

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Painted One @ 9:51 pm

The Birth of a Nation

Nearly a century ago filmmaker, D.W. Griffith adapted the plot of two Thomas Dixon novelsThe Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden and the Clansman, an Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan—to produce his epic three-hour silent film The Birth of a Nation.  The film premiered on Monday February 8, 1915, and subsequently achieved such great success that it to played more than a year in some European theaters, and more than fifteen years in some Southern theaters in the United States.

The film became a national and international sensation at a time when movies struggled to reach middle-class audiences and attain the “coveted status of art.”  It even yielded high praise from then President Woodrow Wilson, who famously lauded Griffith’s work as “like writing history with lighting.” Griffith even held a private screening of the film for President Wilson at the White House, and the entire Supreme Court attended.  Subsequently, The Birth of Nation has become a symbol of racial prejudice and bigoted degradation, along with simultaneously reinforcing white supremacist notions that America is truly a “White nation.”  Ninety-four years after its premier, The Birth of a Nation offers a glimpse into the historical context of a rising nation of conspiracy theorists who challenge the location of our president’s birth.


On Tuesday the White House held a few quiet celebrations to commemorate the birth of our president, as a noisier commotion brewed across the nation.  Ever since President Obama announced his intentions to pursue the presidency in 2007, a small movement has sprung up across the nation featuring Americans who are recklessly spiraling scurrilous accusations regarding the circumstances surrounding his birth.  Namely this growing faction believes President Obama was actually born in Mombassa, Kenya, rather than Honolulu, Hawaii at the Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital.  From there the allegations vary dramatically; however, their conclusions suggest President Obama is not a United States citizens and thereby ineligible, by the dictates of the Constitution, to hold the highest office in the land.

obama playing in the surf

Those ascribing to such beliefs have been coined the “birther movement.” They have begun appearing in angry mobs across the country to voice their grievances and rally further support.  Their murmurings have begun to reach a fever pitch right around the time President Obama celebrated his forty-eighth birthday.  A recent poll conducted by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has found “Republicans are . . . inclined to say the allegations have received too little attention.”  The members of the birther movement have initiated legal proceedings, enlisted the support of congressmen, cable television and radio talk show hosts and have recently influenced proposed legislation that would require future presidential candidates to produce a copy of their original birth certificate.  The birthers rarely offer an explanation for the elaborate conspiracy they believe, they usually insist upon the President producing his birth certificate.

To quell the furor created by the conspiracy theorists, Factcheck, PolitiFact and scores of others have presented indisputable evidence to debunk the unsubstantiated claims of the movement.  The birthers merely respond with more conjecture.  When presented with President Obama’s certificate of life birth, they allege the document is a “horrible forgery” or simply allege the document is insufficient to satisfy their concerns.  When presented with the announcement of his birth published in a local newspaper in 1961, the birthers claim the widespread conspiracy has reached the news media.  Hawaii’s Department of Health director Dr. Chiyome Fukino has released two statements (one on Monday and one last year), unequivocally declaring President Barack Obama’s original birth certificate, showing he was “born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen,” is safe and sound in official files.  The state’s Republican governor, Linda Lingle, has publicly stated President Obama was born in Hawaii.  Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii and close friend of Mr. Obama’s parents, has also publicly declared President Obama was born in Hawaii.  He is quoted as saying, “He was born in Kapiolani Hospital, right down the street from where I lived.  They had no money.  I can’t imagine how they would get to Kenya.  It makes no sense at all.   It’s an insult to his mother.”

President Obama and his mother

President Obama and his mother

This still has not satisfied the birthers.  They contend Dr. Fukino and other public officials are complicit in the plot.  They have made factually inaccurate assertions such as “Obama is completely illegitimate as a U.S. president for two reasons — not only because he did not provide the place of his birth, but also because both parents have to be U.S. citizens.” United States law does not require both parents of a child born in the United States to be US citizens in order for the child to become a natural born citizen.  They also have presented an obviously forged Kenyan Birth Certificate that emerged earlier in the week as foundational evidence of their misguided beliefs.

Why do the birthers continue to advance baseless allegations despite voluminous evidence to the contrary? The answer is quite simple; the birth of the “birther” nation has served as another reminder of the prevalence of this nation’s racist factions. As Harold Meyerson opined earlier in the week for the Washington Post, a portion of conservative white America has difficulty accepting our nation has a black president along with the thought their nation is presently undergoing a transformation from “what many thought as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic.”

Barack Obama playing baseball circa the Sixties

In his book, Silent Covenants, law professor and legal scholar Derrick Bell contends that a series of unspoken, but well-understood agreements, silent covenants, govern the formal mechanisms of social reform and thereby contribute to the recognition and or restriction of rights for minority groups.  He further states:

In ways so closely tied to an individual’s sense of self that it may not be apparent, the set of assumptions, privileges, and benefits that accompany the status of being white can become a valuable asset that whites seek to protect.

Professor Bell concludes by stating the law recognizes and protects this property right like all other property rights.  Following Professor Bell’s logic, the birthers merely seek to protect their property interests.  What they are truly after is the return of their white nation.  For them President Obama’s presidency amounts to a taking, a physical appropriation of an owner’s property right by a governmental entity clothed with eminent domain authority.  Ironically enough, one birther was quoted as saying, “We want our country back” at a recent rally.  Indeed, the birthers want their country returned.  They want a country where the national community presumes to be “American is to be ‘White.’”

The birther movement in full effect

The birther movement in full effect


President Obama’s meteoric rise to the Oval Office represents the fundamental shift in our nation’s identification.  His mere presence represents the change he promised throughout the course of his campaign regardless of his future policy agendas.  In becoming the President of the United States, he represents the changing face of America, one where government by the people for the people may select a leader whom it believes is qualified, despite the leader’s humble origins. He has become the embodiment of our famous slogan, “E. Pluribus Unum.”  The birther movement struggles to accept our nation’s transformation.  President Obama’s personal narrative does not conform to their preconceived notions regarding our Head of State.  He is different.  That difference provides a justifiable reason to find fault.  Because the birthers cannot legitimately challenge him on substantive issues, they feel obligated to challenge our president’s legitimacy.  Their allegations are steeped ignorance and xenophobia and their repulsion compels them to find a means to belittle what they cannot accept.  Consequently, the birther movement seeks to give rise to a nation bearing a striking resemblance to the one born of D.W. Griffith.

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation


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