Presidenting while black

May 6, 2011


One thinks of rats scurrying off a sinking ship.

Meaning the new exodus of birthers from birtherism. Fox News now says in a blog post that it hardly pushed the birther issue at all. Wonder how folks got the idea Fox did that? Oh yeah: by watching Fox.

And Rush Limbaugh says he “warned people this was a dead end.” This is the same Limbaugh who recently said there were “legitimate citizenship questions” about President Obama.

Granted, some on the right were starting to distance themselves from this absurdity even before Obama finally released his long-form birth certificate last week. Witness Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoing a bill that would have required presidential candidates to provide proof of birth. Perhaps the few remaining grownups on the right begin to fear the effect of being defined by cartoon characters and cranks.

But let us not dismiss the birther imbroglio without calling out the bigotry at its core. Yes, that word will bring howls of protest from people who will declare that race had nothing to do with their demands for Obama’s original birth certificate.

And I believe them. Or at least, I believe they believe what they are saying.

Thing is, bigots do not usually stand up and say, “I am a bigot.” They hide this from themselves, much less from you or me. Indeed, Mel Gibson, last heard telling his girlfriend she would be raped by a pack of effing N-words, just said in an interview that he is not a racist.

In assessing bigotry, then, one learns to judge actions over words. And the actions of many Americans have screamed their discomfort with the idea that a black man is now the man. A computer abstract of his birth certificate, a perfectly ordinary document that satisfies passport requirements of the U.S. State Department does not satisfy Donald Trump? Give me a break.

Some have suggested that Obama’s opponents — like George W. Bush’s — are simply out to delegitimize his presidency. Wrong. They are actually out to delegitimize him.

I mean, we just saw the president of the United States required to show his papers, like some brother caught driving too nice a car in too nice a neighborhood after dark. Presidenting while black, I suppose.

Nor does even that suffice to prove his bona fides, as diehards now challenge the validity of the new document and Trump turns his attention to supposed irregularities in Obama’s academic transcripts.

It never stops.

Gregory Howard Williams, an African-American man who looks about as “black” as Thor does, once told me how, when he became dean of his law school, a white woman congratulated him on his well-deserved achievement. Later, somebody told her he was black and she asked if that was why he got the job. When she thought Williams was white, she assumed he was qualified. When she learned he was black, she assumed he was not.

That, my friends, is what you’re seeing here — a new iteration of an old mindset that says a black man can never achieve a thing on his merits, so there must always be some trickery, some fakery, some sinister machinations obliging us to regard his success with suspicion. Even if the black man in question is the president.

I have seldom been more embarrassed for my country.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Maddy Griffin 6 years, 11 months ago

Call it what it is Leonard. Fear of a Black Man.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

Evil people act because of race and then howl when someone calls them on it. Pathetic.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 11 months ago

Die-hard Jayhawk,

Got news for you. The Chancellor of the university for which you are a die-hard is a black woman raised in the segregated south. You sound more like a Missouri fan.

Betty Bartholomew 6 years, 11 months ago

Was the little green man born in the US? Then he gets to be president, no matter what his heritage.

And most states will only send or give you an abstract of your original birth certificate, no matter what you pay to obtain it.

Honestly, at this point, the state of Hawaii has done everything it can to confirm that the president was born IN HAWAII. It doesn't matter who his parents were because Hawaii was a state when he was born there. He qualifies. If there's still an argument to be had, as some people seem to think there is, then it's going to be with the state of Hawaii, not with the president.

In other words, suck it up and move on.

Getaroom 6 years, 11 months ago

Dihrdhwk. Oh, you mean like when the Panama Canal born "little white man alien", John McCain was running for President and wasn't required to show his long form birth certificate to the entire world, and his University records too?

No need to guess where you stand, you are showing your "true unadulterated colors" for sure!

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 11 months ago

Say and do racist things, and then deny racism exists and excoriate those who invoke it.

Its the right wing liberal way.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 11 months ago

Lenny's gonna be pushing the racer theme for the foreseeable future.

Corey Williams 6 years, 11 months ago

F1 or nascar?

Or are you upset because you never got one of those little race car beds?

Don't hold it in. Let all that repressed anger out. Just lash out blindly at anything you don't agree with.

Or just keep doing what you're doing. I guess it's the same thing.

bad_dog 6 years, 11 months ago

No, blue is the default color for liberals. Are you a liberal Deacon?

bad_dog 6 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, got it. Deacon's a liberal thinker.

That's a good one, yep.

Kirk Larson 6 years, 11 months ago

Deacon, you seem to forget that amongst the conservative South of not too long ago, the one drop rule was the Jim Crow Law of the Land. The law may have changed, but the attitude still lingers.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 11 months ago

Racism is illogical. I have seen a man talk like a racist and at the same time would be willing to do anything to help a black man in need, forgetting that he is black.

Does that make any sense?

I understand where Leonard Pitts is coming from. He has a right to feel angry.

Let's just hope the next generation is more color blind than ours.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

Not bloody likely as long as stupid people feel entitled to perpetuate their ignorant outlook. Racism uncontested begets more racism.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

All words are manufactured. Take, for example, the word fool. It was manufactured long ago to describe those who cannot discern what is known by most. I, for one, am glad some intellectually superior people manufactured it long ago. It applies frequently here on these award winning forums.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

Do you suppose it was the fools that came up with it?

Corey Williams 6 years, 11 months ago

Which results in more unmitigated crap from you. Any rebuttals or do you just want to respond with nonsensical personal attacks?

What would jesus have you do?

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

Jesus was pretty clear: "What you did unto the least of these, you have done unto Me." Sad, isn't it, that they clearly do not abide by that truth.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

Fine, BAA, but I was referring more generally to those who are quit happy to suppose to tell us what great Christians they are, yet fail miserably (and quite consistently) to live up to Jesus' teaching.

Corey Williams 6 years, 11 months ago

"No need for rebuttal (insert childish name calling here)."

But yet you did attempt a rebuttal.

And if you didn't pick the name "bornagain" for religious reasons, then what else is there?

Glad to see your name is as obtuse as your postings.

Corey Williams 6 years, 11 months ago

So, born again is an oedipus thing? Other than in relation to the christian religion, I've never heard it relate to anything else.

Corey Williams 6 years, 11 months ago

So you weren't originally born American? Ok, that explains a lot.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 11 months ago

So why do you bother to read his "unmitigated crap"?

BigPrune 6 years, 11 months ago

As a person of non-color, I am tired of being labeled.

Corey Williams 6 years, 11 months ago

So you're clear?

And if you're tired of being labeled, then why did you label yourself?

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 11 months ago

OBL not Muslim? I want to see those papers.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 11 months ago

Honestly, what did we expect? How did we expect the racist southern right wing to react to a black president? The same racist southern right wingers who not 50 years ago were enforcing segregation and beating. hosing, and lynching black people for looking crossways?

I expect them to react just as they are. I'm actually surpised its not worse.

beatrice 6 years, 11 months ago

That isn't even close to accurate.

Is refusing to believe a state issued certificate really just being critical of a person, or is it something deeper? Can you think of a single example that something like this came up elsewhere? Exactly why wouldn't people believe a state-certified legal document when it was presented? Criticizing policy is one thing, but when we get people on here calling Obama a "gangsta" and a "thug," or saying he is a Muslim despite his obvious and often stated Christian beliefs, then it becomes pretty clear that criticism of his policies isn't the intention. Are you suggesting that racism NEVER plays a part in attacks against Obama?

beatrice 6 years, 11 months ago

Then you shouldn't be worried about it. If someone calls you something you know you aren't, why would you care? However, if someone else uses racist remarks, should they be ignored?

Mike Ford 6 years, 11 months ago

part of this country has taken on the mantle of introducing and promoting stupidity. the part that I hear on KMBZ every day as I study these people ( yeah, your stupidity is being observed on talk radio). Birther crap debunked so move on to attacking him over Osama Bin laden's demise. After all, Dumya couldn't even attack the right country let alone find the guy. He couldn't even make it through a speech without making me feel like I just heard a car accident of speech. He was the hero of dummies who to this day make me call up Shannon and Parks and thank them for the comedy provided by these dimwits on 98.1 FM KMBZ. It's funnier than the 102.5 FM comedy channel. As a thinking person who listens to conservative dimwits entertaining me on KMBZ with their proud ignorance, I see why and hear why Mr. Obama fears none of these clowns. Soon, stupidity and birthers and doubters will be out of vogue and what will these clowns dream up next?

Gene Wallace 6 years, 11 months ago

Your Mr. Michael Moore is attacking Your president for "assassinating?" Bin Laden. Is Your Mr. Moore a Racist? (Besides being a wee bit on the intellectually disadvantaged side.) Will Pitts go after Moore next week? Methinks Not.

jaywalker 6 years, 11 months ago

The headline shrieks 'Pitts'. Shocker.
And Lenny has never been more embarrassed for his country. That's so sad. As if there is no racism in any other corner of the world, as if everyone else has it right - no worries in Germany, France, England, China, India - nope, not even a shred of racism or caste systems anywhere else. As if the fervent racism demonstrated in this country between Hispanics and Blacks is non-existent as well. No race wars going on in inner cities. Uh uh. Nope, if you're critical of this Prez, well, you know what you are. Now that kind of blind, blanket assumption is what he should be embarrassed about.

beatrice 6 years, 11 months ago

Pitts said there was no racism elsewhere, or that only whites can be prejudice? Really? He wrote this in this article? I must have read the short version, because none of that appears here.

It is important to recognize that the claim about Obama not being born in American wasn't just criticism of the President and his policies, it was a refusal to accept government documents long ago provided by a state. It was a refusal to accept this man's right to even be President. What exactly is the "criticism" in the birther argument?

You can make the claim that people who are critical of the President are dismissed as racists, but the truth is, the birther argument isn't actually a criticism, now is it?

jaywalker 6 years, 11 months ago

Geez, bea. Way to drop on in with a pound of condescension right off the bat. How 'bout birther's are 'critical' of the President's fitness for the job as defined by the Constitution. But what's it matter either way? The point Pitts tries to make is the same as most every piece he pens: if their's a white person involved in dealings with a minority, then racism is at the core of the problem. Period. And that's a load. Sorry if you prefer to see it the other way.
The birther argument was fairly ridiculous and unintelligent from the start. As if average people had uncovered a conspiracy that wasn't even sniffed by the Clinton political machine or the contending Republicans in the last campaign? Gimme a break. Of course he's a legitimate American. And I'm sure there are racists involved in the 'birther' rigamarole, but just because there are 'some' that doesn't mean all or even a majority. Stupidity has no boundaries nor does it need to be championed by one cross section of society.
Pitts' examples in this piece are an absolute joke; Mel Gibson and some woman who may have actually had affirmative action on the brain? Come on. I'm always ready to praise Pitts when he finally writes a decent piece, but this is just another example of him going to his personal stock in trade and failing miserably. What's worse is the birthers as a group should be laughed at rather than written about....AGAIN... instead of letting this useless exercise command more column inches that it deserved in the first place. And the whole thing should be over now, right? But let's kick the dead dog again. And again. And.....

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 11 months ago

Given the reality of this, http://www.alternet.org/story/150785/the_failed_drug_war_has_created_a_human_rights_nightmare_--_how_can_this_happen_in_our_country_and_go_virtually_undiscussed?page=3 , there is no denying that institutionalized racism is alive and well in this country. Understand that I said, not just racism, but institutionalized racism. The fat old white men have managed to figure out a way to get around 50 years of struggle since the day that Rosa Parks stood up for herself and sat down on the bus. Pitts has every right and reason to be cynical.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

Nice criticism of the "market".

As I've said before, popularity is not synonymous with quality.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago


It's the same people that you seem to trust as far as deciding with their dollars what succeeds and what fails.

And, of course, governments are elected by people as well, and composed of people

I don't share your view that radically separates government from everything else.

As far as I see it, all of it is just people doing a variety of different things in different places.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

Well, you seem to feel pretty strongly that this column is "lazy, commercial crap" that is "devoid of substance".

Looks like a judgement to me, that even though many people will read it/like it/buy papers because of it, that it's objectively bad.

I disagree - individual "markets" are composed of differing groups of people - for example, the "market" for Porsches is fairly limited to folks with lots of money.

All smaller groups in our society are discrete groups - choirs, church communities, etc.

"We" most accurately can describe either those in a particular group - ie. "our choir", or it could describe our nation as a whole, including all of the subgroups.

Either way, my point is that there are people organizing in a variety of ways, with differing interests/activities, and that the government is no different in that respect than a chess club.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago


Your statement sounds as if you think it's more than just personal preference - eg. "I don't like this column".


All groups are made up of people, as I said. There is a group of people who buy Porsches, a group of people who go to Catholic church, a group of people who buy organic food, and a group of people who are in the government.

The government is no different from any other group in that way.

They do have a certain kind of power, but so do people who buy things - thus boycotts, etc.

All of the groups are different in certain ways - Catholics are different from atheists, etc.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

That's fine with me.

It's hard to believe that you're actually so relativistic, given the strength of your language, that's all. You didn't say "I don't like the column" - you say, in essence, "it sucked".

If you're really that committed to relativism, how do you ground your ideas? Seems that you're pretty convinced your perceptions of government, etc. are accurate - that implies some objective reality that can be perceived.

That's not what I said - I said that our society is composed of multiple groups of people, and government is simply one grouping. And, that all these sorts of groups have some things in common, and differ in certain ways.

So, it's not "US" vs. "THE GOVERNMENT" in my view.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

I generally would agree with that.

But I have some discomfort with the idea that there are no objective differences between Lady Gaga and Mozart, for example.

And that the fact that she is much more popular that he is - so sales of her music are more successful.

This is the kind of problem I have with the idea of the market deciding things - if the market decides Lady Gaga is preferable to Mozart, I think it's unfortunate.

And, I would like to see more young people exposed to Mozart and classical music in school, so they have some sense of it.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

I understand what you're saying.

But, as people continue to be less well educated, and not exposed to a variety of "great art", the market changes as a result.

It's not that I don't trust people to make the "right" decision, it's that I think they are making less informed and educated decisions.

And, thus, those decisions may very well be poorer than they would be otherwise.

Your point about the long term is well taken, but you know that orchestras are going bankrupt right now - I think the Philadelphia Orchestra just did.

And, I'm not at all sure that everything is a "chicken vs. ham" decision. That would be a purely subjective decision, of course.

What about a healthy diet vs. an unhealthy one? Or a vegetarian diet vs. a meat-based one? Or using lots of pesticides on your lawn vs. not doing so? Etc.

Some decisions involve analyzing actual facts, and those who are well informed have the option of making "better" decisions.

I put that in quotes for you.

kugrad 6 years, 11 months ago

Newspapers write their own headlines, the only "title" of this article.

equalaccessprivacy 6 years, 11 months ago

Those are some hard-hitting words about bigotry Mr. Pitts speaks in this column. If the shoe fits, wear it, but like the writer suggests here, the guilty parties are unlikely anytime soon to recognize themselves in the mirror.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 11 months ago

How so? Got anything concrete to back that bluster up?

beatrice 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm curious who Jesus would call "Whackos"?

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 11 months ago

Not sure what your point is, but wasn't Joe Lieberman a Jew? Maybe even with Polish ancestry?

Kontum1972 6 years, 11 months ago

now get off my front porch before i turn my rottwieller loose on you....!

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