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Opinion

Newt Gingrich is right: Obama shares anticolonial values -- American values

The US civil rights movement was influenced by anticolonial ideals – such as equality and freedom.

By / September 22, 2010



New York

By now, you’ve probably heard about Newt Gingrich’s weird comments last week linking President Obama’s worldview to “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior." But here’s something you probably haven’t heard: Mr. Gingrich was right.

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President Obama was influenced by anticolonialism. So were you, if you’re a child of the civil rights era. The battles for independence in the Third World profoundly affected the black struggle for freedom in the United States, and vice versa. And that’s what Gingrich doesn’t want you to know.

Nor does Dinesh D’Souza, whose Forbes article prompted Gingrich’s remarks in the National Review Online. According to Mr. D’Souza, a well-known conservative commentator, anticolonialism “is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America.” D’Souza attributes this doctrine to Obama and his father – who came to the United States from Kenya – and contrasts it to the “color-blind ideal” of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anticolonialism influenced Dr. King

But here’s the big problem: Mr. King himself was profoundly influenced by – yes – anticolonialism, which took different forms in different places. At its root, though, anticolonialism held that people should be able to determine their own destinies. And that same idea motivated King and millions of other freedom fighters across the United States.

As early as the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, King insisted that the African-American civil rights campaign was “part of [an] overall movement in the world in which oppressed people are revolting against...imperialism and colonialism...” Like blacks in America, King argued, Africans and Asians were “dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated” by their white rulers.

The following year, King would travel to Ghana to celebrate the birth of sub-Sarahan Africa’s first independent nation. And two years after that, he visited India to study the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi – himself a great anticolonialist, of course – and other nonviolent revolutionaries.

Or consider King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” which he wrote in 1963. Today, we often read his letter – like King’s other writings – as a call for America to fulfill its historic ideals. But King described these ideals as universal, not just American, and he linked the fate of black Americans to colonized and oppressed peoples around the world.

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