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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.

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King wasn't "color blind"

“The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what happened to the American Negro,” King wrote. “[W]ith his black brothers of Africa, and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, he is moving with a cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.”

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Does that sound “color blind” to you, as D’Souza maintains? I didn’t think so. Like other American civil rights warriors, King understood that racism undergirded colonialism abroad as well as segregation at home. Across the globe, then, people of color needed to join hands and throw off the yoke of white oppression.

“All over the world, like a fever, the freedom movement is spreading in the widest liberation in history,” King declared in 1964, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. “The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and land.”

American ideals in Africa

America’s cold war political leaders understood this connection, too, fearing that Communists would lure Third World peoples by underscoring racism in the United States. So they sent famous black Americans – including Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and the Harlem Globetrotters – on good-will tours to Asia and Africa. They also urged young Asians and Africans to come study in America.

One of them was Barack Obama Sr., the president’s father, whose 1959 passage to Hawaii was secured by the Kenyan anticolonial leader Tom Mboya. Hardly the wide-eyed radical of D’Souza’s imagination, Mr. Mboya earned praise from both presidential candidates in 1960 – John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon – for his own commitment to civil rights ideals, especially equality across races.

So it’s perfectly reasonable to attribute “anticolonial” impulses to the president’s father, and even to the president himself. But it’s ridiculous – and scurrilous – to suggest that these ideas were somehow alien to America. Like it or not, our own country’s racial conflicts were part of a larger global struggle. And everybody knew it.

You’d think that Gingrich would know it, too. After all, he wrote his dissertation on Belgian colonial education in the Congo! But the real history of the era doesn’t suit Gingrich or D’Souza, who clearly want to tar Obama with the taint of a “foreign” ideology. Shame on them, for distorting his past. And yours.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at New York University. He is the author, most recently, of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”

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