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Henry Louis Gates on D'Souza, Gingrich

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Henry Louis Gates Jr. — literary critic, historian, scholar, t.v. host, and of course one third of the famous “beer summit” — joined us Tuesday and weighed in on matters of race and identity in American culture right now. Host Tom Ashbrook asked Gates about the controversial assertions made by Dinesh D’souza and Newt Gingrich regarding President Obama’s alleged “Kenyan anticolonial” mentality and behavior.

“Creating this neo-Mau Mau figure which somehow is in the White House,” Gates told On Point, “is playing to racist stereotypes that are inherent in American culture and in Western culture.”

Here are a few more excerpts from Gates’s responses to D’Souza and Gingrich:

GATES: …So I think the larger question, since that’s obviously so silly, is why this sort of specious argument would be resonant. And again I think it’s because people are so frightened. Racism has always been, always been, a function of economic scarcity – economic relationship. Who’s going to get what and whatever lever you can get your hand on to fight for a piece. How much water is in this cup, Tom, if I take three sips, that’s 3 sips less for you. And all of a sudden we find symbolic or metaphorical ways to mask what we’re really arguing about and what’s an obvious one to do is race because of physical differences. And the more obviously different the other is from us, the easier it is to demonize them.

GATES: …You have to subject Barack Obama to the same kind of scrutiny that you did Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. And that’s you’re duty as a citizen, and as a thinking person. I certainly do. So I don’t expect you to do otherwise. However, when someone comes up with this bizarre theory that…What was the phrase? “Philandering luau tribesman,” you know, I mean, please, that’s ridiculous. And would someone, you have to ask yourself, have said that about Jimmy Carter’s ancestors? Or John Kennedy’s ancestors? Or Lyndon Johnson’s ancestors? And second, would it have resonated in the same way that claims about race resonant in this society? I think the answer to both those questions is “no”…

-Staff intern Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin contributed to this post.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Aaron

    Gates is dismissing D’Souza’s allgations. He does not give any answers to the allegations. He is simply pulling the race card. If President Obama’s father was a poligamist, why is it wrong to label him a philanderer? If his father said that it is OK to tax one-hundred percent of income why does that not make him a communist. Gates should answer the questions. Defend his antithesis and not play the race card where there is no clear sign of racism. And yes, other presidents backgrounds should be scrutinized. Everybody knows that Bush was an alcoholic. He does not hide that. Nobody says that saying Bush was n alcoholic is slandering against hill-billies. Wake up Gates.

  • Frank

    Aaron, did you listen to the entire piece? It doesn’t sound like it…

    Mr. Gates goes into great detail about how the sins of the father are not bestowed upon his son simply due to their genetic association.

    The question wasn’t whether or not to label Obama’s father a philanderer but whether or not it is fair to assume Obama is a philanderer if his father was.

    The article is about how we can not assume what a person will do or what their motives are based simply on their genetic lineage.

    D’Souza was trying to say that we need to question Obama’s motives because his father is Kenyan. WHAT??!?!!!?! ALL AMERICANS LINEAGE GOES BACK TO SOME OTHER COUNTRY SO THAT MEANS WE HAVE TO QUESTION EVERYONE”S MOTIVES.

    It’s a ridiculous and unfounded statement. And as Gates explained it is motivated by fears within our society.

    I suppose you think Gates “pulled the race card” after he was arrested for entering his own house because a white woman thought he was a burglar.

    Finally, there’s no reason to give answers to or even acknowledge ridiculous, unfounded allegations. If they have no merit you have no reason to answer them.

    It seems as though you read this page without reading D’Souza’s article or listening to the NPR radio piece.

    You’re the one who needs to wake up.

  • gina

    Re “Philandering luau tribesman”: I believe the D’Souza reference was to the Luo tribe. Poi and hula dancing make as much sense as Dinesh’s craziness, though. Also, Philandering Luau Tribesmen would make an excellent band name – somebody, print up the t-shirts!

  • Ann

    Thank you frank (above) for your terrific response !

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