San Francisco – It is hardly a surprise to see resentment building against President Barack Obama and reaching a frenzy in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign season, but to grasp what underscores this resentment is shocking only because it is so clearly rooted in his color.
Ever since Obama’s election to this hallowed, hitherto white-held presidency, having a Kenyan father has been the mainstay of the opposition’s attack on Obama. The fact that a white mother does not make him white because his father is black is troublesome enough as a hangover of the archaic patriarchal norms and genetic criteria of yesteryear – criteria that should have long been discarded as unacceptable to a society claiming modernity and a nation claiming to be exceptional as an exemplar of democracy and of the idea of liberty, equality and justice for all.
The billboards that have recently emerged are not just distasteful, but frightening, especially to those of us who do not belong to the majority, i.e., white ethnicity, or those who have bought into the myth that we live in a fair-minded mother of all democracies. Asking Obama to “Hang in there” with a picture of a noose next to the slogan is the most offensive, though others are no less disconcerting, including “Send Obama Back to Kenya” and, “Return White to White House.”
The racist messaging has surfaced in a range of states. Directly borrowing from Clint Eastwood’s vacuous dialogue with an empty chair symbolizing President Obama at the 2012 Republican convention, homeowners in Virginia and Texas have been observed to have “lynched” empty chairs in their front yards alongside which are displayed anti-Obama messages.
Presenting empty chairs with watermelons and a noose placed on them and signs saying, “Go back to Kenya you idiot” are seen even in California – a so-called bastion of immigrants and minorities.
Pushing the envelope further, in Albany, Georgia, a banner asking for Obama’s removal blatantly exhorts, “The seals removed one threat to America, remove the other in November.” One cannot help suspecting that the creator of the message implies something stronger than removal; perhaps even elimination, as was done in the case of Bin Laden.
Expressing this suspicion, Katherine Haenschen, Editor of Burnt Orange, aptly commented to NBC: “Someone always wants to say, ‘you’re making a big deal out of it, it’s just a chair,’ but I don’t see how you can dismiss the racial message of lynching a symbol of the first African-American president. It’s really tough for me to see how folks might, after the Eastwood speech, not view this as a racially charged message and a symbol of a threat to the president’s life.”
While elections are acrimonious everywhere in the world, to observe the sheer hatred for this President as a pariah and some evil force distorting the American purity and dream is what makes this world’s original democracy claim by America laughable. Indeed, one cannot help noting that pitted in contrast to the recent spurt of racially motivated billboards, the “birthers” and their crazed propaganda about Obama being an alien, foreigner and “Other” seem sane!
The venom against the Obama presidency has been there since he was elected. But there was some moderation, in that the invective his diehard opponents (including Fox News anchors like Sean Hannity and radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh) spew daily stops short of suggesting violent ways to rid their America of this anomalous presidency. In that sense, by contrast, they too appear benign, even if totally uncivil and uncivilized.
Although some solace can be drawn from the fact that the fair-minded sections of the communities in many cases have spoken against such racial billboarding, the fact that Tea Party, Republican and Mitt Romney protagonists and financiers largely do not (or insufficiently) raise their voices against such blatant racist sloganeering, speaks poorly for American democracy and flies in the face of the conservatives’ and neocons’ claim to American exceptionalism.
On a somber note, it is worth pointing out that while the country holds its breath fearing the likely fall from the fiscal cliff, falling off the social cliff (which may have already occurred) sadly has few mourners, least of all among those seeking to occupy the White House and the Congress.