Is It Racist to Call Obama a 'Kenyan'?

The right-wing fixation on President Obama's birthplace has, thankfully, faded somewhat since that Trump-destroying moment in April when the president released his long-form birth certificate. But the idea persists among many conservatives that Obama is still somehow alien, not a true American (whether that's a conviction or a political strategy is another matter--it was a Democratic strategist, Mark Penn, who first proposed targeting Obama's "lack of American roots"). The latest example of this comes from Herman Cain via an interview with Andrew Goldman in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Cain's way of emphasizing Obama's "otherness" -- like Dinesh D'Souza and Newt Gingrich before him -- is to characterize the president as a Kenyan. Penn, who is white, was roundly pilloried for implying what Cain, who is black, says baldy. Goldman wisely cuts right to the chase:

At Tea Party rallies, you see signs referring to Obama as Kenyan. Are those racist?
Not if you're from Kenya.

But he was born here.
I don't think calling him a Kenyan is racist. Secondly, I think those kinds of signs have stopped because the leaders of the Tea Party movement have instructed their folks that we don't need to do that kind of stuff.

I don't know about other folks, but that exchange strikes me as fairly damning. Cain says that it's not racist to call Obama a Kenyan, but then concedes that it is unsavory by admitting that Tea Party leaders are trying to stop it. I'll be interested to see if he gets called out on this.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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