Obama's Mama vs. The Donald's

As Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t help imagine what Barack Obama’s mother would make of the kerfuffle around her son’s birth certificate. After all, Barack Obama’s mother is white.

We white people wield a special brand of entitlement in general and Americanism in particular.  No matter if my grandmother was born in Russia.  I’m white.  Whether I’m walking down the street or running for political office, my essential American-ness --- my claim to be a full part of the past and future of this nation --- is never questioned.  Never.  

Never mind that Barack Obama is the living, breathing incarnation of the American Dream --- raised by a single mother, working hard to get into college and then law school, working as a public servant to give back to his community and, ultimately, becoming President of the United States.  Obama’s story is far more “American” in its essence than the stories of, say, Donald Trump who was raised rich and still is rich thanks to a deeply un-American elitist patronage system that compounds inequality. 

But Donald Trump is white. 

Anyone who thinks race has nothing to do with that the fact Barack Obama is the first president in the 235 year history of the United States to have his citizenship questioned --- and, oh, incidentally, our first African American president as well --- not only fails to see the deep stain racism leaves on our daily lives in this country but, just as much, fails to understand the very racially coded essence of American identity.

It’s why immigrants (particularly Latino immigrants from Mexico) are routinely described as “invading” our nation or, even more offensively, “infesting”.  It’s why all Muslims are implicated as wanting to “destroy” the supposedly Christian America.  It’s why Sarah Palin calls her constituents in the more rural, more white parts of the country “real Americans”. 

By implication of skin color, Donald Trump is more inherently American than Barack Obama.  Which would come as a real shock to Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a white woman born and raised in the American heartland of Kansas.  Trump’s mother, on the other hand, was an immigrant from Scotland.

There is nothing more fundamentally anti-American than parsing out shares of American identity based in proportion to skin color.  By any definition of the values and ideals of our nation, Barack Obama is as much or more an American --- an inheritor and perpetuator of the American Dream --- than Donald Trump who was born with America and everything else served up on a silver spoon.  And the undocumented migrant mothers who are toiling in our nation’s fields today so they may create a better future for their children are arguably just as American as Barack Obama’s mother. 

Too often, we treat American identity as a tangible birthright given only to some rather than an aspirational dream available to all.  Yes, one has to be a citizen to be President --- and Barack Obama (unfortunately) was forced to prove that previously and re-prove it again.  But one does not have to be a citizen to be American.  The America for which our ancestors fought and for which we continue to fight for today is not simply the soil onto which you are born but the spirit in your heart --- the idea that all people are born equal and should have equal opportunity, that this hallowed nation shall be a place on earth where people from all walks of life can pursue their dreams together. 

My thanks this Mother’s Day goes out to Ms. Stanley Ann Dunham, who instilled in her son Barack Obama the true spirit of America --- a desire to work hard to make the world a better place of all of us.  God bless Ms. Dunham and God bless America and all its children. 

AlterNet / By Sally Kohn

Posted at April 29, 2011, 11:09am

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