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.

Presented by

Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Politics

Just In