The bestselling author of Nigger (2002) explores the racial issues surrounding President Obama’s election and administration.
Obama’s historic election proves that race, by itself, is no longer a disqualification for even the highest office. It does not, however, signal any kind of post-racial era, writes Kennedy (Law/Harvard Univ.; Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal, 2008, etc.) in this handy compendium of the racial concerns Obama so adroitly handled during the campaign and of the race-tinged issues arising during his first two years in the White House. As a candidate, Obama quietly courted blacks by his ready self-identification, notwithstanding his mixed-race heritage, as proudly African-American, by his marriage to a strong black woman, his church affiliation and his espousal of a liberal Democratic agenda. He attracted white voters by seeming to float above racial considerations, by calmly assuring them of his good will, his patriotism and his allegiance to the nation as a whole. Kennedy teases all this out, and he provides a short electoral history of blacks, a discussion of the “race card” charges during the 2008 campaign, a commentary on the racial dimensions of the lamentable “beer summit” and the Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination and a moving, first-person description of the meaning and symbolism of the inaugural. Avowedly center-left but still an “unembarrassed” admirer of the president, Kennedy retains sufficient objectivity to properly appraise the much-acclaimed “A More Perfect Union” speech, Obama’s answer to the controversy aroused by the inflammatory Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the Illinois senator’s longtime pastor. No, it was not a second Gettysburg Address, nor comparable to the “I Have a Dream” speech. Rather, it was the effective response of an extremely nimble politician to a campaign crisis. It contained nothing novel for anyone even “passably familiar with basic information about black-white race relations over the course of American history.” Kennedy’s critique may be similarly assessed: nothing especially new here, but all of it well said.
A carefully calculated, sober discussion of why race will continue to haunt American politics.