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For the past 30 years, Dinesh D’Souza has fought against virtually every demand for social and racial justice that has emerged. From his 1981 outing of closeted students at Dartmouth to his ridicule of the anti-apartheid movement to his vitriolic attacks on affirmative action, D’Souza has proven himself as the Right’s favorite hitman.
In his latest rant, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, D’Souza offers – courtesy of Forbes, which adapted part of the new book for a cover story – a kooky biological theory of politics. Because Obama’s father held certain beliefs, according to D’Souza, Obama holds those beliefs. He apparently only read the title of Obama’s autobiography, and then snipped convenient half-quotes to try to dress up his otherwise raggedy argument. D’Souza’s strategy is to conjure up images of primitive immorality and licentious Africans, and thereby stoke nativist fears that are already at a boil. Obama, we are told, was inspired by “the dreams of a Luo tribesman,” a man who was a reckless and drunken polygamist and a deadbeat father. We are then urged to swallow that narrow depiction of the senior Obama and project it wholesale onto the son. It’s in the blood.
D’Souza goes on to pathologize anti-colonialism. One of the great steps forward in the 20th century was the abolition of colonial empires throughout Africa and Asia that had for hundreds of years disenfranchised and exploited a great percentage of the world’s darker people. In detailing the personal flaws of Obama’s father, D’Souza frames his opposition to colonial rule as a kind of sick delusion. One of Obama Sr.’s supposedly offensive ideas, according to D’Souza, is the following quote: “Is it the African who owns this country? If he does, then why should he not control the economic means of growth in this country?” That man must have been insane to suggest such a thing!
D’Souza’s implied message is that by channeling his long-dead father’s supposed anti-colonial madness and in the process subverting Western civilization, Obama is demonstrating greater loyalty to the Third World than to the United States. What Third-Worldist policy is D’Souza talking about? A sober assessment would lead most good people to conclude that the United States could afford to be more sympathetic to the plight of developing countries and the long-suffering people of the Global South.
As if these insinuations aren’t enough, he links Obama’s efforts to combat poverty, unemployment and foreclosures (efforts not nearly aggressive enough) to a corrupt conspiracy to play Robin Hood to the world – taking from rich white people and giving to poor black and brown people. Here is how D’Souza puts it: “If Obama shares his father’s anticolonial crusade … [He] believes that since the rich have prospered at the expense of others, their wealth doesn’t really belong to them; therefore whatever can be extracted from them is automatically just.”
He goes on to try to link Obama to terrorism, and to suggest he is not really a part of the American mainstream because he grew up in Hawaii. I guess all those brown bodies make the islands foreign in D’Souza’s mind.
If D’Souza’s words were the impotent ramblings of an angry little blogger, that would be one thing. But Forbes has legitimized these malevolent ravings and Newt Gingrich, among others, has stepped up to parrot D’Souza.
This reactionary episode reminds me of two recent books. Martha Nussbaum’s Not For Profit insists that the humanities are important to democracy because humanists (artists, writers, poets, history professors) encourage people to think critically and to be compassionate. One wonders what D’Souza majored in at Dartmouth – meanness and white supremacy?
The other book, On Rumors, is by Cass Sunstein. He argues that people accept whatever undocumented facts and fragments “fit” or reinforce the political narrative they find most comforting. This thesis is somewhat cynical, but to the degree D’Souza’s line is accepted, Sunstein’s point is made.
While we all have been socialized to gravitate to reductionist solutions, and simple sound bites, I hope something visceral in all of us will yearn for a bigger truth, will nag at us to say, “This is not quite right.” It is this instinct that will put us on the path to a more hopeful and just future – and away from D’Souza’s colonial nostalgia.
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Barbara Ransby is a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, where she directs the Social Justice Initiative and the Portal Project. A feminist and longtime activist, she is author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, two other books, and many essays and articles. Her current book project examines the crises of racial capitalism and the response of 21st justice movements.