RABBIT RAMBLINGS: We the people have an obligation

I don’t think I need to mention that I am an intense political junkie. I really got hooked on politics after all my research into the history of our incarceration during World War II, with the realization that governments, even in a democracy such as ours, have huge powers over our lives. I also realized that in a democracy, we the people supposedly have some power to push back and to influence the course and direction of governmental policies. “The government,” after all, really consists of individual persons, and we elect these persons into governmental positions. I don’t want to be preachy, but I do believe that if we don’t like what these individuals are doing, we need to get active and work for change. Indeed, we have an obligation to participate in deciding who our leaders are.

I say all this because I detect a dark and dirty streak in some of the things that Mitt Romney has said. He is obviously a very smart man, a seasoned politician who was once the governor of Massachusetts, and so it is hard for me to believe that he isn’t totally aware of the import and possible meanings of everything that he says.

Particularly, I take offense at his supposed joke that no one has ever asked him for his birth certificate. No, we generally don’t question white people about where they were born. If Romney was making a joke about the fact that there are people who have questioned the birthplace of Barack Obama, it was not funny at all, and it looked like he was in a calculated way throwing a bone to the “birthers,” those who have waged a relentless campaign trying to prove that Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawai’i and is not a legitimate citizen. Why throw out a line like that in front of a crowd if you didn’t intend to get a rise out of people who might still wonder if Obama is a “true” American?

Well, I think that there has been an underlying theme in American culture to question the origins of various people of color. How many times have we been asked where we come from, and then to be told that we certainly speak English well. I’ve encountered these situations when traveling in other parts of the United States. Once I was giving a lecture to a class at a University of Wisconsin about the incarceration experience and a student asked me how it felt to be the only non-white in that classroom. Indeed, as I looked around, I was the only non-white there. I guess that’s what the American heartland is like.

When I was a young wife, some assumed that I was a war bride, that I had married some soldier or worker and that was the way I happened to be here. The point always seems to be that we really don’t “belong” here, that we are still somewhat alien and strange, maybe untrustworthy. So, Barack Obama is not only (half) black, he is foreign and not “one of us.”

Now, one of the issues that we have to deal with today is immigration, and with the millions of undocumented workers and their children, many who have lived here for a long time. It seems to me that the Republican Party has gone out of its way to be hostile to these people and has done nothing to deal with these problems in a pragmatic, compassionate and realistic way. It keeps alienating African Americans with these oblique attacks on the citizenship of Obama, and now, the drive to disenfranchise millions of minority group members and old and poor voters through the voter registration programs seems to make it the party of whites only, and relatively well off whites at that.

So, to me, the birther movement is such a blatant, racist ugly bid for white supremacy that it reduces the public discourse to “us” and “them.” That one presidential candidate makes “jokes” about it is just sickening.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@earthlink.net. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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