The Effort to “Otherize” Obama

Nicholas Kristof’s Sunday column in the New York Times is about the deplorable effort to “otherize” Obama.   One of the key points that Kristof highlights in the piece is that:

Almost one-third of voters “know” that Barack Obama is a Muslim or believe that he could be.  … A Pew Research Center survey released a few days ago found that only half of Americans correctly know that Mr. Obama is a Christian. Meanwhile, 13 percent of registered voters say that he is a Muslim, compared with 12 percent in June and 10 percent in March.   …In conservative Christian circles and on Christian radio stations, there are even widespread theories that Mr. Obama just may be the Antichrist. Seriously.

It’s shocking and Kristof links to some of these outrageous sites at his blog.   Take a look, too, at the comments on Kristof’s blog.  Several of the people who believe these lies weigh in to reinforce their own delusion.   (And yet, this is not that shocking if you believe this argument, or if you subscribe to the old H.L. Mencken adage.)  To his credit, Kristof nails the analysis with this (and confirms much of what Joe’s been saying here for months):

What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian. The result is this campaign to “otherize” Mr. Obama. Nobody needs to point out that he is black, but there’s a persistent effort to exaggerate other differences, to de-Americanize him.

Kristof ends his column by calling on fellow journalists to “do more than call the play-by-play,” and do more to expose the egregious “fouls” that magnify the ugliest prejudices.    I’m glad to see Kristof finally acknowledging what we’ve been writing about here for months now.   If ever there were a time when those reporting on this campaign, not to mention the American citizenry, needs to get more sophisticated in its analysis of racism, that time is now.


  1. What amazes me is that even the news outlets that are addressing the misbelief that Obama is a Muslim are not addressing the bigotry implicit in that reasoning as a part of voting decisions. Nobody seems to be saying, “yeah, and so what if he is a Muslim?” No one seems to be challenging the unspoken idea that Muslim = bad. What this minority of voters is really saying is Obama is a Muslim; therefore, he is unworthy of my trust, my vote, or the presidency. It’s horrifying, really.

  2. Cal

    Aside from the issue of whether his being a Muslim would be a problem, I am really having a hard time grasping how — after all the hoo-ha about which churches he goes to and which preachers he listens to and blah blah blah — anyone could not know that he does in fact worship as a Christian.

  3. Joe

    One reason for voter stupidity in believing he is Muslim is tied to the point the sciencegirl is making. Frame theory indicates by repeating a false frame, he is Muslim, without that analysis of its racism and stupidity every time, just repeating it spreads it around. You have to reframe it.

  4. From the arm pit of white America

    Having lived in Eastern Kentucky (in a city visited this past spring by both Chelsea and Bill Clinton) for nearly five years, I can sadly attest to the accuracy of Kristof’s speculation, which I’ve also harbored for many months.

    I work in an academic library and have discovered fellow employees — whose work essentially involves use of a computer and internet access — who, as recently as within the past two months, have registered their belief that Obama is a Muslim. Others doubt that he’s a Christian, or express a vague unease about “not knowing who he is” or “where he’s coming from”, etc.

    What unifies all of these folks who register varying grades of otherwise easily-illuminated ignorance, it seems to me, is their Evangelical piety. Much of their social lives dutifully revolve around their churches, which are breeding grounds for the intellectual uncleanliness that has made rural Evangelicals the demographic most abysmally receptive to the dumbest and most despicable misinformation and pandering of this election.

  5. Seattle in Texas

    Had to come back and spread some more info–do it wherever I can. Didn’t know where to put this one–but anybody with friends or family residing in Washington State who needs to register to vote (or know others who need to register) can go this website where they can register online (not download the form online and mail in the form–but actually register):

    Also, in terms of the folks that have the whole Muslim (which I don’t think should be insulting…) and Anti-Christ thing going on…they’re all McCain supporters anyway and don’t think they are a threat to Obama’s win this November. They try to be influential…but the power of grassroots? When their crap leaks out to the Dems…. I personally think Obama is going to take the win. But I wanted to note something different quickly. There several reasons so many people identify with him (from black to white, Christian to Muslim, and whatever else) and I love reading them they range from him being multiracial, both his national and international kin ties, and so on (plus noting his white grandfather who fought in WWII and helped free a concentration camp who was sitting with Mrs. Obama during the convention and for many his choice for VP–Biden and the work he’s done to help free women from violence for the fems, etc.). But, here (and I know this can have it’s own discussion, but keep in mind it’s from an AIM member):

    “…the background of his grandparents, is maternal grandmother was part Cherokee.
    So all in all.. Our Bro is running for president,

    With that aside, tribal and American Indian folks also have many reasons to be both supportive and excited for him for important political reasons and are heavy at work campaigning too.

    And in closing, folks in Texas–the deadline to register or get people registered is October 6th, in Washington October 6th also–I believe at least online. Folks need to check other states and come on Texas! Help rock this nation and shake its foundation!!! Go Blue!!!

  6. Seattle in Texas

    Very quickly omething for the folks in Texas—anybody who wishes to have the great honor of firing off a democratic vote in the Lone Star state during the political showdown which will be taking place from October 20th through November 4th–Obama/Biden supporters of any political affiliation/orientation/whatever in Texas, make sure you’re registered, your information is current, you know where your voting location is. If you’re not registered, get registered by October 6th and make sure everybody else you know who wishes to vote democratic is registered—help them get registered—and be sure to do all of this either directly with voter registration or a deputized Obama/Biden registrar—time is running out. *taking tiny tippy toe steps going around in a circle kicking up dust up in the air while firing off invisible pistols towards the sky with both hands one after the other*…okay, that’s about as pro-gun stereotypical Texas republican style as I can get (exclude Obamacan’s here)—cheers to all in Texas who vote for Obama/Biden this year!!!

    But here’s something kind of related…below is an article on Palin’s Pentecostal pastor from Kenya who had prayed to protect her from witchcraft and so on for anybody interested. But I thought it was interesting twist considering the constant negatively framed associations the GOP has been trying to make with the Muslim religion and Obama while at the same time in many ways demonizing Kenyan society/roots/ties….


  1. RacismReview: The Effort to “Otherize” Obama « Stop Dog Whistle Racism!

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