One of the most enduring psychological traits of a personality that holds racist views is their ability to deny the facts and retain their prejudices intact. Right now, in the US, we are witnessing mass racist hysteria epitomised by the idea that a black American President is not in fact an American by birth.
The fact that that President Obama felt it necessary to publish his birth certificate cuts to the heart of such fundamental prejudice. Part of the psychological default setting for racist or prejudiced whites is that blacks cannot be believed.
The extreme right wing of the Republican Party is infested with such people whose grip on reality is warped by conspiracy theories that President Obama is a Muslim and was born outside of the US. Some even believe that he represents the anti Christ himself.
We may laugh at the sheer stupidity of such people but the fact that this issue can attract mainstream news coverage both here and in the US speaks volumes about the culture of racism that exists in both countries that can deem, as perfectly legitimate, such a deeply racist campaign without challenge to his racist accusers.
In short these claims have been given currency because the media have approached the issue as a legitimate question despite their own forensic research that indicated quite clearly there is nothing to this ridiculous story. In the context of a country that has a culture of racism, one of the consequences is that racism can become normalised. In that context the absurd becomes real and the facts inconsequential to attitude or perception.
Some whites routinely disbelieve black people; black people are forced to suffer higher levels of false accusation despite the facts of the matter. Black people are judged to a different and often higher standard than their white colleagues. This is the awful reality of racism in both the US and here in the UK.
Stories that should be laughed out of the newsroom become headline news and silly rumours develop a credibility that defies logic. This is the profound psychological consequence of racism at its worst: a fundamental denial of credibility, authenticity and truth. Don’t believe me? Here is a test: provide me with one example where a serious accusation of personal or institutional racism has been made by a black person or organisation that has not been met by any other response other than routine denial?
It is the routine white denial of the reality of racism that really makes black people question their own sanity. If you want to make someone both depressed and angry this is the perfect psychological approach to demoralise, undermine, destabilise and marginalise them.
Both here and in the US the insidious culture of racism infects human relationships at a personal and political level and no, denial is not a river in Egypt. Is the President an American? That the question can be asked and then treated seriously speaks volumes about Western society’s perception of the essential humanity of black people.
|Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate, as released by the White House on 27 April 2011. Photograph: guardian.co.uk|