The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency
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Timely—as the 2012 presidential election nears—and controversial, here is the first book by a major African-American public intellectual on racial politics and the Obama presidency.
Renowned for his cool reason vis-à-vis the pitfalls and clichés of racial discourse, Randall Kennedy—Harvard professor of law and author of the New York Times best seller Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word—gives us a keen and shrewd analysis of the complex relationship between the first black president and his African-American constituency.
Kennedy tackles such hot-button issues as the nature of racial opposition to Obama, whether Obama has a singular responsibility to African Americans, electoral politics and cultural chauvinism, black patriotism, the differences in Obama’s presentation of himself to blacks and to whites, the challenges posed by the dream of a postracial society, and the far-from-simple symbolism of Obama as a leader of the Joshua generation in a country that has elected only three black senators and two black governors in its entire history.
Eschewing the critical excesses of both the left and the right, Kennedy offers a gimlet-eyed view of Obama’s triumphs and travails, his strengths and weaknesses, as they pertain to the troubled history of race in America.
played a role in prompting Powell to make the endorsement.17 They charged that Powell supported Obama because the general, out of loyalty, wanted to assist his racial “brother.” The reason this charge was deemed newsworthy is that electoral favoritism stemming from racial-group loyalty is seen by many as wrong. Some observers agreed with Buchanan and Limbaugh and condemned Powell, while others defended Powell from what they saw as a baseless calumny. Common to both sets of observers was a
observers this is a matter of importance. Writing before Obama had officially declared his candidacy, the journalist Stanley Crouch exclaimed, “When black Americans refer to Obama as ‘one of us,’ I do not know what they are talking about.” He does not share a heritage with the majority of black Americans, who are descendants of slaves. If Obama becomes “our first black President, he will have come into the White House through a side door—which might, at this point, be the only one that’s open.”25
betrays him as perhaps more vanilla than chocolate”). n It is striking that in presidential nominations so much turns on the electoral preferences of voters in states with such racially homogeneous populations. Less than 3 percent of the Iowa population is black. In New Hampshire, blacks constitute only a little more than 1 percent of the population. Often, though, the jurisdictions most open to black advancement have been those in which populations of African Americans are relatively small. o
person feels for a place he considers “home” and a people he considers “his” people. Although the object of a loving attachment to a place and people can take many forms—a household, neighborhood, state, or region—the object with which I am concerned here is the nation known as the United States of America. I am concerned with the sentiment which prompts African Americans to say that they love the United States and to express that love through sacrifice. Patriotism may include admiration. But
the purpose, or is at least thought to serve the purpose, of gaining inclusion into the conventional national narrative and all of the attendant privileges that come with such involvement. Frederick Douglass voiced this view when, during the Civil War, he encouraged blacks to enlist in the Union Army. The man “who fights the battles of America,” he asserted, “may claim America as his country—and have that claim respected.”18 In his contribution to the anthology What the Negro Wants, published