Proxy Prejudice

21Sep08

Is someone spreading innuendo suggesting that Barack is Muslim?

As a radio talk host and Barack blogger I have tons of material forwarded to me, and I’ve seen precious little of this. Yet, confusion over Barack’s religion persists.

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.

Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times, complains that this confusion is part of a deliberate attempt to make Barack the “other.”

More ominously, a rising share — now 16 percent — say they aren’t sure about his religion because they’ve heard “different things” about it.

When I’ve traveled around the country, particularly to my childhood home in rural Oregon, I’ve been struck by the number of people who ask something like: That Obama — is he really a Christian? Isn’t he a Muslim or something? Didn’t he take his oath of office on the Koran?

Isn’t confusion unavoidable as average Americans start to tune into the campaign for the first time, getting to know a candidate who is named Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood being raised in Indonesia, and had two fathers who were Muslims?

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.

You mean Christians wouldn’t have a natural concern about whether a candidate is not Christian? Shall we get Mitt Romney’s opinion on this – he’s a 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.

What do you think would happen to John McCain’s candidacy if he had Reverends Wright and Pfleger as spiritual/political mentors?

Journalists need to do more than call the play-by-play this election cycle. We also need to blow the whistle on such egregious fouls calculated to undermine the political process and magnify the ugliest prejudices that our nation has done so much to overcome.

Barack’s problem is not that others are trying to otherize him. His issue is that he has otherized himself!



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