President Obama made a shocking speech at the 2011 Whitehouse Correspondents Dinner – shockingly amusing, that is. With a sense of humour keen enough to inspire admiration in even the most hilarious stand-up, he gently lampooned Donald Trump, multimillionaire and self-elected chief of the ’Birthers’. The Birther group are the conspiracy theorists arguing that Obama was not born in the USA and therefore not a legitimate president. And it was this theory that Obama finally put to rest at the Correspondents Dinner.
Or so it would seem; in actuality, recent polls indicate that up to 55 per cent of Republicans (or just over 30 million Americans) still believe – even after the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate – that he was not, or might not, have been born in the USA. Trump himself has lived under the various administrations of 11 separate white Presidents. Not Trump, nor any other Republican, Democrat or American citizen, ever questioned their American origins.
The breed of pervasive racism exhibited here goes beyond conscious discrimination to something far more profound. To an extent we’ve overcome a level of racism in society; we’re all living in ‘Obama-world’ now, in which one of the most powerful men on the planet is of African descent. It’s hard to give incidents of racism the sense of gravity they might once have had in that context. But these accusations reveal an ingrained racism that proclaims: “people of different colours are born in different countries”. Nothing could be more backward to our multi or even pan-racial community here in the UK, where Trump claimed vast support, particularly in England.
I use the term ‘racism’ without a moral slant, because a certain amount of racial discrimination is necessary. Don’t believe me? In light of recent events, to crack a joke about earthquakes in front of a Japanese person may be considered offensive. Therefore, the preferable course would be to identify Japanese people and use discretion in the subjects that you discuss, on the basis of their country’s cultural and historical perspective. Racial discrimination has become a morally charged phrase, when it needn’t be. It simply means to distinguish between different races; as Trump has shown, it’s how you behave once you’ve identified the distinction that can be a problem.
The legacy of the Birthers poses a myriad of questions: where are we in the fight for racial equality, and how much further can we realistically eradicate what we term ‘racism’? Only time will tell. Yet we can learn a lot about the next steps toward a truly racially-integrated society from the events leading up to Obama’s speech. From Trump, not to question a person’s origin based on their skin colour; as we’ve seen, it ultimately has the ability to make you look like an idiot. More importantly, from the President himself, we learn one way to deal with the last lingering stings of racism. The key is humour: laugh it off. In the end history, and indeed the world, will be laughing with you.