Donald Trump became part of the national scene for presidential candidates by questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship. President Obama’s Kenyan father and American mother were apparently fertile soil for the development of a “Birther” theory by Trump that would disqualify Obama from the presidency.
Although it did not work, President Trump is using his Birther theory again. This time it is Kamala Harris the target of his desperate attempt to avoid losing in November.
His is questioning of her citizenship, even-though she was born in Oakland, California, is based on the fact that her father is Jamaican and her mother is from India. This transparent Birther attempt however has also inadvertently revealed characteristics that perhaps created advantages for both Obama and Harris in their drive to reach the highest offices in the land.
The advantages could be expressed by the international, biracial and immigrant attributes of both leaders. They are perhaps elements that help transcend some of the negative history that African Americans have experienced in this country.
The Black story in America began in 1619 when the pirate ship, the White lion, arrived at the Jamestown, Virginia colony with a cargo of 20 Africans taken from the Portuguese ship Sao Jao Batista. 170 years later the Constitution that established the United States as a free and democratic republic also provided for slaves to be counted as 3/5th of a person.
Some 7 decades later President Abraham Lincoln added the freeing of slaves to the preservation of the union as a rationale for successfully prosecuting the American Civil War. This process was completed with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1868 that guaranteed full citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.
But as the southern states began to be reintegrated into the union, Jim Crow laws of segregation under “separate but equal” pejorative provisions became the method of keeping African Americans in a second-class position. The Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954 was an important stepping-stone in reigniting the struggle to achieve integration.
The work of Martin Luther King and the movement that led to the civil rights laws of 1964 did a lot to reestablish the foundation for a new relationship with the Black community. His murder in 1968 was a major setback as violence and turmoil that involved young people of every race brought about a backlash that threatened to undo the progress of the latest effort.
Prominent in King’s legacy was the use of non-violence. This successful approach was also used by Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement that brought California grape producers to the bargaining table.
The model for non-violence in advocacy was the great Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu crusader and the father of Indian independence. It contrasted starkly with the violence and burning of cities that characterized the actions of Black youth.
There is an international flavor to the successful civil rights accomplishments through non-violence. There is also a sense that this flavor in the human experience can have higher yields of success.
Perhaps Barack Obama’s mixed heritage has been helpful in his drive toward the highest leadership. This may be because his heritage does not include the history in the United States of an oppression experience that dates back to 1619 as it does for other African Americans.
The same can be said for Kamala Harris whose immigrant parents are from somewhere else. This may help navigate the road to one of the highest public offices in the land.