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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.

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