The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

Randall Kennedy. Pantheon, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-307-37789-0
Harvard law professor Kennedy (Sellout) turns his kaleidoscopic perspective on race in American life upon an engrossing and nuanced analysis of "the racial issues that have surrounded Obama's election and presidency." Kennedy balances his admiration for Obama's achievement with an awareness that the president is "a professional politician first and last." He looks at Obama's courtship of black voters and white voters as a "tightrope" requiring that he be "black enough to arouse the communal pride and support of African Americans but not ‘too black' to be accepted by whites and others." Challenging knee-jerk responses—from the left, right, center, and fringe—to media tempests (e.g., Henry Louis Gates's arrest, the Shirley Sherrod "debacle," the "attacks" on Sonia Sotomayor), he manages to look beyond race without overlooking race, placing events in a historical political context. Distinguishing "racial from nonracial criticism," he finds, surprisingly, "considerably less racial misconduct in 2008 than much of the election commentary has contended." Kennedy's own tightrope to walk is his view that Obama avoids confronting race and his recognition of "the symbolic power of [Obama's] example." That he does so successfully makes his account both provocative and informative, arguable and absorbing. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/20/2011
Release date: 08/01/2011
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