Bobby Jindal, Birth Certificates and the Politics of Race

Bobby Jindal, Birth Certificates and the Politics of Race May 8, 2011

According to this Reuter’s article, this week Bobby “What me, a vice presidential candidate?” Jindal, governor of Louisiana, released a copy of his birth certificate. This was done as a response to an editorial that was in response to his support of Birther inspired legislation that would require all candidates for federal office on Louisiana ballots to show their birth certificates.

Good grief.

And again I say, “Good. Grief.”

First . . . for those who can muster up their best, “What? What’s wrong with asking if people are born here?” and can do so with a straight face, get thee an agent and move to Hollywood.  Seriously. To think that the Birther movement is a rational, innocent and pure search for the truth denies the reality that the question and furor around it is fundamentally built upon about how American society still perceives brown folks . . . as not American until proven otherwise.  Add on the “I am just asking a question, you shouldn’t get so mad” posture and we either believe that we live in a vacuum void of generations of historic challenges to the “Americanness” of groups of people, or we really do believe that one cannot TRULY assumed to be “American” unless you are White.  Neither option is particularly attractive to say the least. Yes, the nature of race in the United States is complex and has changed greatly over the generations, but we must not buy into the notion that we are in a post-racial society, because, not only is this not true, doing so leaves room for racism’s ugly butt to shamelessly moon the world at will.

As the President said during the release of his own full birth certificate, “We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do.”

And then there is Bobby Jindal making waves with this recent political stunt. *deep sigh*

I am going to assume that Governor Jindal is a bright guy, so he has got to know full-well what he is choosing to do.  In this release of his birth certificate in a weak-sauce attempt to respond to a editorial mistake about his name, he is choosing to perpetuate the ongoing assumptions of Americanness in exchange for political advancement. While this may be savvy and strategic for his own political future, it calls into question his cultural integrity and commitment to the struggles of people of color.  Choosing to feed his political ambition at the expense of furthering a just world no matter what that may do to his political aspirations makes me sad, frustrated and more than a little pissed off.  With this move Gov. Jindal is maneuvering himself further into the presidential conversations and will no doubt be used by the Republican party as a poster child for a conservative post-racial America. This should be no shock to anyone, but it should give us great cause for concern about the future of our political discourse.

For those who do not believe that the political and cultural landscape should be formed by this tone and tactic, we must not pay undue attention to fringe groups or political novelty acts. But . . . when legitimate political figures start buying into these postures, we must be diligent in making sure that these marginalizing perspectives do not become further rooted culturally or legislatively into the life of the United States.   I hope that these kind of side-show antics will give way to more meaningful conversations about our racial and political future, but if it is going to happen, we certainly need folks like Governor Jindal to stop feeding the frenzy.

A boy can dream . . .

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anonymous
  • Mcareful59

    It’s about the Constitution, period. I am sure that is what opponents had in mind when they challenged John McCain’s eligibility, right? Race or ethnic orgigin has nothing to do with it, as long as the natural born citizen clause is satisfied. For God’s sake, there are a mere 3 qualifications required to be POTUS, shall we ignore all three?

  • Dallangray

    I’m not a birther–nobody I know is. Never any doubt in my mind or any reasonable mind that Obama was American. Since it is a Constitutional requirement, and a good one, that the President be American-born, I don’t have trouble with a cursory verification of this, though it is pretty silly. Same thing with him being 35, for the same reasons. We card young people who wish to buy alcohol and employers check arrest records or verify degrees and this, too, is a reasonable bureaucratic stipulation.

    Your comments are nonetheless offensive. I do believe that those who make a profession out of their ethnicity–brownness, blackness, whiteness, whatever–do a disservice to this country; and the post-racial America you seem to deny and deplore is, of course, a threat to those whose livelihood depends on continuing to endlessly worry the issue of race, as you do. Your snide comments about Gov. Jindal are thoroughly typical of the PCUSA: the leadership have made it clear that Republicans like me have no place in the Church–which is why so many of us have left. We do not want our Church to be an arm of any political party or ideology, yet you and others have made it thus.

    Incidentally, re your comment, “I’m going to assume Governor Jindal is a bright guy…”, you are on the mark. Much, much brighter than you, my friend. Graduated Brown at 20, accepted Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School, turned them down for a Rhodes Scholarship, ran the health department in Louisiana (very successfully) by his mid-twenties, youngest governor in the country at age 36.

  • Saylorscreek

    Paulrack , I am “non-brown” and have had to produce my complete birth certificate numerous times for military and government employment. This is routine and visited among all who must be citizens to be hired. Where does all this racist talk come from, except for people unaware of the law and government policy? It has nothing to do with what you look like. McCain had to do the same thing.

  • Saylorscreek

    AGAIN! For Pete’s sake, give people the courtesy of a reasoned argument, instead of “cut and paste” arguments on the illegalities of the “state” of Hawaii. You owe us, your countrymen at least that.

  • Saylorscreek

    Pastor Reyes-Chow, as you know, it is a hard road to walk the path of Christ in today’s America. (I fall off it all the time myself, but I try to get up and get back on it every time). I agree with a great deal that Pastor Ferguson has to say–he has good statements we should heed, (as do you) and we are blessed to be able to disagree. We change, one disagreement at at a time. My major point is “with malice toward none, with charity toward all”. We should move past divisiveness in word or deed toward communion.

  • Saylorscreek

    OK, “my experience of racism” is not validated because I am a “non-brown person” , but let me offer this into the discussion to show how poisonous this sort of talk can be.

    I joined the Navy when I was 18. My bootcamp company was made up of blacks, whites,. Filipinos and Native Americans. We worked together. We cried together. Basic training was a hard experience back in the day because it had to be, but we worked together, sat at mixed tables, slept in mixed cubicles. We were a team.

    Until the Race Relations people entered and gave us the standard lecture. After that, my black friends no longer talked to me, my Filipino friends no longer talked to me. Everyone separated out to their own tables and ignored each other , because we were “supposed to” dislike the other group. The Race Relations lecture boomeranged, had the opposite action of what it was supposed to. I lost friends because of the “racist” talk and people who worked together before separated out.

    How do you explain this, @Robbie Warren Gillespie and others? Why did we polarize because of “good healthy talk” about “the race problem”?

  • Saylorscreek

    Mark, consider that he had a parent who was NOT a citizen. This issue by rights is worth coming up because there is more probability of a non-citizen parent having a non native born child. Everyone is required to produce a full birth certuificate, including, as one poster mentioned Chester Arthur.

    When has this happened otherwise in the last century that a president has had a non-US parent? Why is it I, born in Texas, have had to provide the long form to the government for employment and security clearance, etc. numerous times but a citizen born in Hawaii thinks he does not need to provide anything but a short form?

    Hey, this is the so called land of equality–what is good for me, Joe Q Public, is good for anyone else.

  • Saylorscreek

    Here you go again…Hawaii declares things legal that are illegal by US law. Since when is Hawaii able to be a sovereign state and disregard US law and customs? Hawaii is a state and subject to US law. If they don’t like it, they need to secede.

    And what do you do, cut and paste the same old tired responses?

  • Saylorscreek

    Oh, yes, and your sociological reality argument is not founded in logic or in ethics. I have known a lot of people whose “sociological reality ” was founded in area 51 and flying saucers and various conspiracies. Can’t be logical with them either. My “sociological reality” is that there are people like you who are reverse racists, period. Move on–that dog won’t hunt. You aren’t helping anything move forward with this kind of talk. Actions are all that matters, and I walk the walk. Do you?

  • Saylorscreek

    Absolutely true–thank you. In the trade we call it “passive aggressive”, there is hate and spite behind it.

  • Saylorscreek

    You were the one who brought up the short form argument, now you want to disqualify it. I bring up Hawaii’s bureaucratic lawlessness in response to your argument, now you want to disqualify the argument. I bring up that race does not exist scientifically–you disqualify that too.

    You need to talk to the people who put the “citizens only” clause into law, not me.My experience is not valued, obviously, nor is anyone who disagrees with your racist notions of white supremacy that you keep putting forth in your arguments. Thank God this America and I am glad you can say whatever you want, though I will no longer try to reason with you. You are not interested in reason–just interested in orating the same old tired argument. Just don’t make any more assumptions about me and what I think. You are not interested in hearing it. Discounting people for you is obviously selective.

  • This seems kind of ridiculous. You know that the short-form is valid,
    and yet you demand the long form? This tells me more than just accuracy
    is behind your motivations — whether intentional or not.

    You are redirecting the conversation from the topic at hand and making
    it about the way the state government of Hawaii works. Those might be
    important questions, but they are off point. Whether or not the state
    SHOULD act in a particular manner is different than how a state DOES
    act. By shifting the focus from the later to the former, you engage in a
    different conversation than the one presently being had.

    As one white person to another — you really need to get over your
    weariness of people beating the “racist drum”. It’s your white
    privilege that allows you to entertain the notion of ignoring the
    problem. The drum of white supremacy has been beating for centuries,
    and it’s not going to end because white people are starting to hear the
    beat. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. The only way to
    make it go way is to diagnose the problem, evaluate and change. The
    problem is the way that white people are ridiculously privileged in our
    society. At issue in the question of the birth certificate is simple:
    in our society, white people are presumed to be Americans, while people
    of color are viewed as suspect. This is simply the case. Judging by
    your lack of argument to the contrary, and your redirection, either you
    know this point and don’t want to admit it, or don’t want to acutely
    engage in the actual debate.

    Finally, saying that there is no genetic or biological basis for race
    denies the fact that race — while largely socially constructed — is a
    sociological reality. Race might not be biological, yet we still
    operate within a society that cares deeply about the pigmentation of
    your skin. People experience the world through the lens of their race.
    To ignore the fact that I am white, ignores how the various social
    structures through which I navigate affect me. To be color blind is a
    privilege of white people and denies the experience of all people.
    People of color are reminded constantly that they are not white, and do
    not have access to the same power structures that white people do — and
    it’s done mostly unintentionally and it is largely subliminal. I think
    that’s the problem…most white supramcy today does not happen in Jim
    Crow laws, and cross burnings. Most white supremacy happens
    insidiously, by demanding birth certificates, and English only
    initiatives. In fact, while I am certain that it was not your
    intention, your desire to not hear the “racist drum” implies that the
    experience of people is not valued. This serves to further remind
    people of color that are not white and that their experience does not
    matter. It’s that kind of hidden white supremacy that we must fight.

    Finally, to say something is to do something. Speech is an act. By the
    power of speech, things happen. Right action starts with right words.
    Striving to act in a non-white supremacist way begins with striving to
    speak in non-white supremacist ways.

    We need to speak our way into new being and be or way into new speech.

  • Saylorscreek

    Yeah, the birth certificate was a non-issue and unworthy of discussion. Get the form and let it go.

    What I would like to hear is what you think of the imams getting kicked off the plane because of their dress. I really do not like the implication that no member of the clergy can wear clothing that identifies them as clergy in America. That IS prejudice.Thanks for your “tolerance” . Presbyterians led the way in forming an America that was educated,enlightened, dedicated to free speech, tolerance and the right to disagree. You know that I am sure, but anyone not aware of that might be interested in the book “United Irishmen, United States” and read how the Presbyterian rebels of 1798 came to America and helped to move the country away from Hamiltonian Federalism.

    God discussions here–thanks.

  • Saylorscreek

    Assumptions, assumptions…and arrogance. First of all, everyone’s birthplace should be questioned routinely as is the law.. If JFK’s father was born in Ireland, I would have wanted to see his, too. I happen to share some ancestors with Obama and I had no problem with him personally other than his inexperience. The only thing I thought about Obama’s looks was that he was kind of cute. I am so tired of people beating the racist drum on that issue and making assumptions about how I make my judgments based on MY physical appearance and ancestry.

    Second of all, come into the 21st century. We have actively advanced in the way that treat others and will continue to do the work that is needed. Hello, this problem was identified a long time ago. You are a half century behind the times. Race is itself a specious concept–check your science. No such thing, physiologically in appearance, though some DNA tests can identify deep origin according to physical location. But there is no proven racial identification in appearance that is 100% reliable.

    Third of all, I lived in Hawaii and I know about the “short form rule” as well as other violations of US law they performed on a regular basis, such as using SSNs on Driver’s Licenses for many years. I even took the driver’s license bureaucracy a copy of the law and they said “Well this is Hawaii, we don’t do that here.” When I lived there, I couldn’t shop half the time because stores would only have Japanese or Chinese speaking clerks. In Hawaii, the problem always goes back to some bureaucratic nonsense that is special to them alone.

    Finally, let’s consider that what we DO continues to be more important that what we say. I bit my tongue bloody in Hawaii when I was often insulted for being “non-brown”. But I treated them graciously, no matter what they did to me. That is the only thing that matters, not “identifying racism” after a more than 50 year struggle to act correctly.

  • Hpwilliams50

    Where is the proof, that he is really the one the certificate is for. Were these people BROUGHT because it has been pre planned that he will be “president”.
    How do we know that he is really the child of these people, or were the records switched.
    Is he of Indian descent? Is Bobby and Piyush the same person?
    Who can prove that THEY SAW the baby that was born to these poeple, and that Bobby/Piyush is that same baby?

  • Inkedrev

    I respectfully disagree. No one has ever asked to see Alan Keyes’ birth certificate; not even when he “carpetbagged” in Illinois. Had your article addressed the issue of an anti-Muslim undercurrent to the presidency, I probably wouldn’t disagree at all. But I don’t think race has anything to do with Obama’s birther opposition. I think his father being African has a great deal to do with it, but not his skin-tone.

    For the record, I don’t think you’re fanning any flame as a “man-of-God” any differently than any other “person-of-God” is called to do. Part of our role in ministry is to be prophet, which has the terribly painful job requirement of speaking against the creature comforts of the current generation. That said, not all birthers are racially motivated and not all “brown people” support Obama.

  • jbrown

    A good suggested reading on the subject would be Peggy McIntosh’s paper, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” (You can google it and download a four-page pdf.) Sometimes the privilege of being in the dominant social group feels so natural that it goes unnoticed, because it is not overt or intentional racism. Yet, it is true that in the United States, there are “keys”, “passwords”, “maps”, “free passes” and invitations that are taken for granted by white-skinned residents. She also calls it “unearned advantage and conferred dominance.”

    I believe the great momentum behind the birther issue is that for many Americans the assumed “unearned advantage and conferred dominance” was brought into question by the election of a person of color. Without even being able to articulate what was at the heart of the matter, intuitively people sensed that their experience of white privilege was being eroded.

    Bobby Jindal’s action gives the appearance of condoning (approving?) white privilege in order to secure personal gain.

  • PastorMattFerg, if you were from Hiwaii, you would already know this…clearly you are not. And if you had been paying attention over the last 3 years, you would already know this…clearly you have not. And so, because you haven’t been paying attention and you aren’t from Hiwaii, I’ll explain it again:

    If you are from a state that issues short-form birth certificates, anytime you are required to show a birth certificate — for instance, getting a passport — a short-form is sufficient. A short-form birth certificate is considered by all government agencies as a “full” birth certificate. Ergo, President Obama had released his full birth certificate.

  • Mark, if you were from Hiwaii, you would already know this…clearly you are not. And if you had been paying attention over
    the last 3 years, you would already know this…clearly you have not.
    And so, because you haven’t been paying attention and you aren’t from
    Hiwaii, I’ll explain it again:

    If you are from a state that
    issues short-form birth certificates, anytime you are required to show a
    birth certificate — for instance, getting a passport — a short-form
    is sufficient. A short-form birth certificate is considered by all
    government agencies as a “full” birth certificate. Ergo, President
    Obama had released his full birth certificate.

  • Henry, if you were from Hiwaii, you would already know
    this…clearly you are not. And if you had been paying attention over
    the last 3 years, you would already know this…clearly you have not.
    And so, because you haven’t been paying attention and you aren’t from
    Hiwaii, I’ll explain it again:

    If you are from a state that
    issues short-form birth certificates, anytime you are required to show a
    birth certificate — for instance, getting a passport — a short-form
    is sufficient. A short-form birth certificate is considered by all
    government agencies as a “full” birth certificate. Ergo, President
    Obama had released his full birth certificate.

  • Saylorscreek, if you were from Hiwaii, you would already know this…clearly you are not. And if you had been paying attention over the last 3 years, you would already know this…clearly you have not. And so, because you haven’t been paying attention and you aren’t from Hiwaii, I’ll explain it again:

    If you are from a state that issues short-form birth certificates, anytime you are required to show a birth certificate — for instance, getting a passport — a short-form is sufficient. A short-form birth certificate is considered by all government agencies as a “full” birth certificate. Ergo, President Obama had released his full birth certificate.

    It is only people who are already suspicious of Obama’s birthplace who demand to see the long form. We must ask, therefore, where that suspicion comes from. And here, I’ll answer it: It comes from white supremacy. It comes from white people thinking that non-white people are not American. It comes from white people thinking that only white people are real Americans.

    Furthermore: calling something that which it is does not “fuel the flames of bigotry.” You cannot cure the illness without first diagnosing it. White supremacy is such a part of our culture that we are often blinded by it. Until we recognize when bigotry is happening, we can never do anything about it.

  • @NicodemusLegend:disqus A classic bullying tactic, pushing someone until they react . . . then play innocent.

  • What is wrong about asking all, including whites, who want to be
    President to show proof about their country of birth as long as the
    Constitution contains this clause?

    Speaking only for myself (white), I just think it’s more than a little suspicious. Why did it come up NOW? No non-race-based answer yet given has been very satisfying.

  • @4b7bb465ee1b15e774ff5c0768df48fe:disqus Wow, specious, lame and a bigot? I think I’ll have to respectfully disagree, but thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Saylorscreek

    What kind of “brother in Christ” fans the flames of bigotry with this kind of statement? Yes, I am “a non brown person” and some of my people have been here since Jamestown (as have some of Obama’s by the way) . Nevertheless, I have had to produce a FULL birth certificate on numerous occasions. We are all asked to do so–in my case, is that a plot against non-brown people? LAW is that the president must be born in America.

    Does bigotry exist? Undoubtedly. Should we try to change ourselves and reduce it? Of course. But specious and plainly lame examples like this only fuel the flames of bigotry, not extinguish them.

  • Add on the “I am just asking a question, you shouldn’t get so mad” posture

    Almost without regard to issue, when I hear or read this kind of line, my mind inevitably goes to kids in grade school. The type who say intentionally provocative things to illicit a reaction that will get you in trouble, while they just say to the teacher in their best “Eddie Haskell” voice “I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and Joey just went all ballistic…”

    I really can’t stand such people.

  • @84f6da230f64ad21e964c7dce53cae3a:disqus Thank for the response. I think you may have misunderstood. I am not looking for kodus from you, but hoping for some evidence that you can see me as complex brother in Christ. As you have commented on issues of immigration, race, etc. the mean-spiritedness has caught the eye of my family, friends etc. My daughter has asked me about you in particular. I understand getting slammed by people that have have no connection to AT ALL, but I feel like there has been an ongoing relationship here, so hope for more. I do not want to overestimate the connections that a denomination can build, and am not all “woe is me,” but there you have it.

    I am sure we’ll keep in touch. Take care.

  • Pastorferguson

    Paul, you missed the point—Arthur was white and was challenged to produce his papers becuase that was (and in President Obama’s case) this is political garbage and not racial. Yes, the loons would have and will go after something else—-jsut a there are loons who were and are after Bush the second. It is political garbage—–they are after Bush because he is a Southernern. Making it racial instead of what it is was the point of why President Obama didn’t release a long form—it kept the pot stirred and service his politiical purpose of dividing people—-what all too many politicians on both sides do.

  • Henry Chamberlain

    Both my son and daughter have been Americans all their lives, but they were not born in the US. They are whites. They have been in the US from the time they were teenagers. They speak American English without a non-American accent. Nobody ever questions that they are Americans, but according to the US Constitution they can not be US President unless they hide the fact that they were not born here or lie about it. What is wrong about asking all, including whites, who want to be President to show proof about their country of birth as long as the Constitution contains this clause?

  • Patrick Laney

    For the record: I have eaten breakfast with Bruce and do not remember what he ate. He did begin to glow at one point, though. And it was a little weird seeing that dove bounce off the window as it tried to enter the room…

  • Patrick Laney

    There is undoubtedly racism against white people just like there is sexism against men, yet as a white man I rarely if ever think of my color because I am not asked to. The fundamental problem here is that Chester Arthur and myself might be asked to show our birth certificate because of our actions or history. The current President has to for one reason–politics aside–he is a person of color. There are plenty who genuinely disaagree with him and it has nothing to do with the color of his skin. However, when intelligent, non-racist politicians use the “birther” issue which fans the flames of those who are, it is disgusting. Particularly, when the “leader” is a person of color.

    I went to a “black” barbershop in Atlanta and they would not cut my hair, despite the seats being empty and them needing business. Even in that moment of racism, they did not need my long form to know I was American. I agree with you that there are many who make too much out of racism in these days. Many of the arguments are lazy and uninformed. I find this one to be at the appropriate tone and needed.

  • Pastorferguson

    Oh, racism exists—-I am sure it is very problematic in some areas of our country but I do not think it is as bad as some others think it is.

    I was fascinated to see an Oprah show a few years back on racism within the black community—seems some treat lighter skinns blacks very differently than they treated darker skinned blacks. I would have never thought that was happening until I watched that problem.

    Unlike many, I think racism also exists against whites. I know some argue that unless you are the power base in the country you can’t speak of that but it is real—-for you do have black power areas. Ex: A wealthy black has power and could be guilty of racism in his treatment of other races.

    I think some use the racial issue as an unfair club to beat up fairminded criticism.

    With regards to the birther issue—I think that part of the constitution was likley good for a young country but is unneeded today—-but it is still there and needs to be followed until it is removed. I think many who were using it were actually hoping to find something embarrassing on his birth certificate. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the President has the long form for a long time before releasing it and held on to it because he liked using the issue politically. Just my opinion—we all have them. Politics is a full-contact sport and it is rather ugly and I wish it wasn’t so.

    I usually only respond to you when I disagree and not when we agree because all your fans out there do a more than an adequate job of laying on the praise (admit it–they sometimes really do go over the top—-I remember one guy who wrote “I wish I knew what you ate for breakfast becuase you are so profound in the morning—-seriously? I actually had a good laugh at that one and shared it a few times with folks because it was so over the top.). You get more than enough high-fives from folks on good comments and I simply don’t see a need to simply add more when I agree with you.

    And I think you enjoy interacting with those who disagree–as long as they don’t do it disagreeably. I don’t think you can find a post by me that was over-the-line in how I disagree with you.

    Does racism exists—yes.
    Does it exist in ways that would surprise me—yes.
    Is it as big of a problem as it used to be—no.
    Is it as big of a problem as I think you believe it to be—no (not if you think the primary driving force of what was behind the birther issue was racial and not the politcal junk that I disagree with).
    Is it also a problem with other races treating whites badly—yes.

  • Paulrack

    Releasing the long form wouldn’t have “ended it all” 3 years ago because these people are always looking for something even if they have to make it up. And why is it that only non-white people (or in Arthur’s case, apparently, people accused of being non-white) have to produce their papers?

  • ann deibert


    Appreciate your post. Makes me miss the rich conversation and mix of friends in the young urban pastors group.
    I always come away a better person when I get to see the world from a different perspective.

  • @6069f39e177794022e3b711af08b490e:disqus When I hear you critique EVERY post of mine that deals with race in the US

    (and most other topics as well)
    , all that come out is that you think racism does not exist . . . or is it is just how I frame it . . . or is it that no matter what I write you will never agree? I am willing to engage, but not in a conversation of futility.

    So, in all seriousness, what do you think is the nature and state of race today in the United States??

  • Pastormattferg

    And that Chester Arthur (president who was challenged on his birth being in the U. S.) was brown skinned? President Obama liked keeping this distraction going as he could have ended it back in the primary season (3 years ago). He used the crazies for his purpose so any complaining about it is really hollow—IMHO. And remember there were challenges concerning John McCain’s birth location. Some of it was basic politics—some of it was crazies—some of it was folks who thought there might be something on the birth certificate they could use to embarrass the man (like his mom not listing the name of a dad)—garbage? Yes—-but much of politics is such garbage—and again, he could have ended it all 3 years ago but instead thought it coudl be used for his purpose until it was simply getting too much.

  • Jebrazell

    I am sad for my nation when pandering to fear takes precedence over standing up for principle.