Show Me Your Papers! Obama’s Birth and the Whiteness of Belonging
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In the wake of Barack Obama's 2009 ascension to the White House, stories questioning his citizenship slowly trickled into the mainstream. By 2011, “Birtherism”—the belief that Obama is constitutionally disqualified from holding Presidential office—was a principle aspect of public discourse. Through an analysis of online comments in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, I analyze how dominant understandings of citizenship, race, class, and civil rights structure public navigation of “Birther” claims. I find the presence of several “narratives of belonging”—shared stories that people socially construct to account for who they are, how the world works, and where different people belong. These narratives reveal the sustained conflation of citizenship with an ideal or “hegemonic” form of white racial identity.
KeywordsObama Birthers Race Citizenship Whiteness Online discourse
The author gratefully acknowledges the discerning feedback from the anonymous reviewers, the insightful guidance of guest editors Ben Carrington and Simone Browne, editor David Smilde, and comments on an earlier draft by Jessie Daniels. I dedicate this article to the life and legacy of Derrick Bell (1930–2011).
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