Shortly after President Obama declared himself this week an American-born citizen with the papers to prove it, Baratunde Thurston declared himself a disgusted black man.
“I find it hard to summarize in mere words the amount of pain and rage this incident has caused,” Mr. Thurston said.
“This” would be the sight of the nation’s first black president standing in the White House, blue power suit and all, debunking in more detail than ever before the persistent, he’s-not-really-an-American rumors fanned anew by Donald Trump, the developer and potential presidential candidate.
Many black Americans responded to Wednesday’s scene with a large sigh. The rumors and the controversy had a particular, troubling resonance for them: They’ve seen, heard and lived the legitimacy of black people being called into question so many times before that, they said, they weren’t shocked to see it happen to Mr. Obama over something as simple as a birth certificate.
But they were sad about it, too, seeing what they felt was a high-level manifestation of the idea that when a black person accomplishes something great there must be something wrong.
“The stress of feeling constantly called into question, constantly under surveillance, has emotional and physical consequences for us,” said Imani Perry, a professor at Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies. “It also puts us in the position of not being able to be constituents, with respect to our politicians, because we feel we have to constantly protect the president.”
Mr. Obama said he had “watched with bemusement” as people kept alive for two years the idea that he might have been born outside the United States and therefore wasn’t eligible to sit in the White House. “I’ve been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going,” Mr. Obama said.
Ellis Cose, author of an upcoming book that explores anger and race, said there is a sense that Mr. Obama has become the lightning rod for a general longing among certain whites to “take America back to a time when people like Obama could not be president.” For blacks, that’s “clearly an aggravation,” he said.
“A lot of folks are amused, and a lot of folks are upset about this,” Mr. Cose said.
Mr. Trump, who may or may not seek the Republican presidential nomination, stepped up to a microphone in New Hampshire within minutes of Mr. Obama’s appearance Wednesday to claim credit for forcing the president’s hand.
Mr. Trump also wants to examine Mr. Obama’s college grades, raising unspecified concerns about the degrees the president got from Columbia and Harvard.
That’s what bothers black Americans so much - that sense that nothing they do can ever be considered good enough, said William Jelani Cobb, professor of Africana studies and history at Rutgers University.
“It’s partly American tradition of paranoia, and partly just plain old racism,” Mr. Cobb said. “Illegitimacy is the rule, not the exception. It’s the sort of thing that people come up with regularly when there are African-Americans operating at high levels.”
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