I recently reviewed a book for the New York Journal of Books titled The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency by Randall Kennedy. The book explores the politics of race from the time of Abraham Lincoln to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The book also explores some of President's Obama's actions while in office from the angle and viewpoint of racial politics.
Is the anti-Obama feeling racist?
Randall Kennedy doesn't specifically answer that question, but it is sure that he has strong feelings about the subject of race and politics and America.
About the Author
Randall Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale. He attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and is a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He is the author of Race, Crime, and the Law, a winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption; Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word; and Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal. He lives in Massachusetts.
The New York Times printed an excerpt recently and here is how it started. The excitement of electing the first African-American President.
On November 5, 2008 it seemed momentarily that, at least in terms of race relations, America had taken a giant stride toward redemption. After all, that day the electorate selected Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, to be President of the United States. The hope, pride, relief, and astonishment generated by this unprecedented event provoked all sorts of optimistic declarations. People who had, in emotional self-defense, habitually refused to invest in patriotism, now did so openly and enthusiastically. People who had doubted that Americans would ever be able to overcome racial alienation now expressed a belief that they could. Expressions of exhilaration produced sounds and scenes reminiscent of reactions to such landmark events as the Emancipation Proclamation, Joe Louis’s victory over Max Schmelling, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the landing on the moon. Parties erupted featuring such anthems as “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” “It’s Been a Long Time Coming,” and “We’re a Winner.” Strangers danced and cried with one another. People named newborns after the President-Elect. On the day after the election, one of my students at Harvard Law School tearfully declared that in light of Obama’s election she was reconsidering her career planning. His example, she said, made her want to be a better person. A few days later, I received a letter from an inmate in a maximum security prison in Indiana who said the same thing.
But as Randall Kennedy writes, the excitement soon subsided. The race thing has never quite gone away. Race hangs over the White House like the sword of damocles ready to fall at any slight error made by the President.
The recent crisis over the debt default brought this into light. The question was asked often: Would Bush be treated this way? Would even Clinton be treated this way?
Another review by the Sunday New York Times Book Review was written by Dwight Garner.
August is not half over, and already it’s been a punishing month for Barack Obama: the debt limit fiasco; the Standard & Poor’s downgrade; the deaths of Navy Seals and other troops in Afghanistan. This powerful and ruminative book by Randall Kennedy, “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency,” is unlikely to put the president in a more cheerful mood.
He also talks about how many Americans view not only the President, but most African-Americans as less than "patriotic."
“Many Americans suspect that, in general, African-Americans are less patriotic than whites,” Mr. Kennedy observes. He suggests that African-Americans have never been especially fond of the Fourth of July, for example, partly because the framers of the Declaration of Independence tolerated slavery and partly because the day could be menacing. Whites sometimes “took offense at the sight of blacks celebrating,” he says, “as if they were members of the American political family.”
This discussion will not go away any time soon, but it is a discussion that needs to commence. The seeds of the toxic Tea party movement are made from the racist seeds of American History. The best chapter in the book, as Dwight Garner points out and which I agree, is the chapter about Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
The finest chapter in “The Persistence of the Color Line” is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”
Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”
And for many African-American, that is the essence of what others view as their being "unpatriotic." This s a book that needed to be written and I look forward to many more like this to continue the debate of race and politics in America.
John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African-American studies, published by The Elevator Group Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books