Millennials and the Birthers: Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Donald Trump Prove Older Generations Drum Up Race-Rooted Obama Birth Issue


You want to know who’s to blame for the “birther” phenomenon? Older generations.

Millennails, by and large, find the birther issue laughable, a racially-rooted issue that doesn’t necessarily register in our psyche. Why would it? We’re the ones that elected Barack Obama.

Older generations seem to be the ones drumming up the racially-charged birther issue. And as this birther issue once again consumes the American media, we should focus on why it has been older generations which keep bringing it up.

On Thursday, controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio unveiled early “results” of an investigation conducted by members of his volunteer “cold-case” posse, on the “authenticity” of Obama’s birth certificate. Arpaio’s findings seek to buttress a point which New York billionaire and former-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump had echoed earlier in 2011, when he too questioned Obama’s U.S. citizenship. 

“Based on all of the evidence presented and investigated, I cannot in good faith report to you that these documents are authentic,” said Arpaio at a press conference. “My investigators believe that the long-form birth certificate was manufactured electronically and that it did not originate in paper format as claimed by the White House.”

This is one big LOLz moment in American history.

The birther issue is, of course, a controversy that has been widely debunked (the fact that it had to be debunked in the first place is astonishing). Ten months ago Obama released his official birth certificate, clearly stating that he was born at 7:24 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Still, the issue remains alive in the eyes of some far-right conservatives, especially Tea Partiers, and has been widely credited to a bizarre racist streak in American society.

More so, though, it seems like a generational issue. Arpaio is 79. Trump is 65. Nearly 75% of Tea Partiers range from the 35 and up age range.

Millennials, on the other hand, are the largest, most racially and ethnically diverse generation the U.S. has ever known. Millennials were the ones that helped usher in the Obama presidency, the first African American president in U.S. history, be voting for Obama by a ratio of 2 to 1. In 2008, millennials comprised about 17% of the electorate and accounted for about 80% of Obama's national popular vote majority.

To us, he was a good candidate, better than the other guy, and had ideas that deeply resonated with us.  

So what if he was black.

But for other, older generations, Obama’s race seems to be very much an issue. Thus the birther controversy.

For millennials, the issue of race seems to blur. According to Racism Review, "a study conducted by ARC explains that Millennials have 'difficulty defining present-day racism when initially asked.'” Moreover, we don’t consider ourselves a “post-racial” generation. We see race as a problem in the country, but we’re more ready to accept it in our social fabric. For instance, most millennials accept inter-racial marriage, according to a Pew study. While 85% of Millennials say they would be fine with a marriage to someone from any of the groups asked about, that number drops to about three-quarters (73%) among 30-to-49-year-olds, 55% among 50-to-64-year-olds, and just 38% of those ages 65 and older. 

Probably because it is the most diverse in U.S. history (about 40% are nonwhite and one in five have an immigrant parent) virtually all millennials (81%) favor providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

This data points to differing conceptions on race when compared to older generations. By no means are millennials a perfect post-racial generation, but we are more accepting of the issue when compared to other generations.

All of those national figures who have brought up the birther issue have been older. They have all been white. They have all been far-right conservative. Is there something there?

There seems to be a generational gap through all of this.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to properly cite language that was originally used without attribution to Racism Review. We apologize to our readers for this violation of our basic editorial standards. Mic has put in place new mechanisms, including plagiarism detection software, to ensure that this does not happen in the future.