When Barack Obama was first mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, there was some initial uncertainty regarding his name. Some felt the last name Obama was too similar to Osama Bin Laden’s first name.
In recent months, Obama’s middle name has become a point of contention. On Feb. 26, Bill Cunningham, a conservative Republican from Cincinnati and host of the radio program “The Big Show with Bill Cunningham,” used Sen. Obama’s full name – Barack Hussein Obama – three times during a John McCain rally.
Whether he will admit it or not, Cunningham obviously used the middle name to draw attention to Obama’s alleged Muslim background. Hussein is a traditional Muslim name and is also the last name of former Republic of Iraq President Saddam Hussein.
Cunningham then went on CNN where he stated, “Hussein is a proud Muslim name.”
Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential candidate, later denounced the statements as well as Cunningham. McCain said he would continue to refer to Obama as “senator” and apologized for Cunningham’s remarks.
The reality is the name Hussein came from Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., who is Kenyan. Sen. Obama is also a Christian and not a Muslim; he belongs to the United Church of Christ.
Yet, there have been pictures circulating online of Obama in traditional Islamic headgear. It was rumored they emerged from the Clinton camp.
Clinton denied these rumors.
There have also been rumors that Obama was sworn into his Senate seat using the Qur’an.These rumors are also untrue as it was U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison who was sworn in on the Qur’an in an unofficial ceremony.
So the real question remains, why does it matter?
It had to be expected that a black man who is a major presidential candidate this far in the primary election would face some sort of discrimination. It’s just surprising, this discrimination is not racially motivated.
If Obama does indeed win the Democratic Primary, it will be very interesting to see if the Republicans will use the middle name when addressing him. McCain said his campaign won’t use Hussein.
“I absolutely repudiate such comments,” he said. “It will never happen again.”
A 2003 study from the Cambridge-based National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with ethnic-sounding names who had comparable qualifications to a candidate with a white-sounding name were 50 percent less likely to get a callback for an interview.
Let us hope that those findings do not play a role in the most important job in the nation.
Chris Osborne is a FAMU alumnus from Irvington, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.