“I’m Aboriginal. I’m Just Not The Aboriginal You Expect Me To Me.” // REVIEW OF “Am I Black Enough For You?” By Anita Heiss #AWW2016

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Oceania on 2016-08-17 02:31Z by Steven

“I’m Aboriginal. I’m Just Not The Aboriginal You Expect Me To Me.” // REVIEW OF “Am I Black Enough For You?” By Anita Heiss #AWW2016

A Keyboard and An Open Mind: The Blog of Avid Reader and Writer, Emily Witt

Emily Witt

Title: Am I Black Enough For You?
Author: Anita Heiss
Genre: Memoir/Non-fiction
Date Read: 01/08/2016 – 09/08/2016
Rating: ★★★★

Normally memoirs don’t really get more than three stars from me. It’s not that they’re terrible, just that they’re not a genre I have much interest in, so even if I find the writer interesting, that’s not necessarily the case for the writing itself. Fortunately, I found Anita Heiss’ memoir to be thought-provoking and easy to read, and it helped me to understand how our Aboriginal Australians form their identity.

In 2009, Anita Heiss found herself as one of seventeen successful Aboriginal people targeted by “journalist” (I use that term loosely) Andrew Bolt, who accused them in his nationally-distributed newspaper column, as well as online, of “choosing” to identify as Aboriginal to further their careers. Four of these Aboriginal people took Bolt, and the Herald and Weekly Times to court, arguing that he had breached the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). They won the case…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , ,

On Race and Medicine: Insider Perspectives ed. by Richard Garcia (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-16 18:01Z by Steven

On Race and Medicine: Insider Perspectives ed. by Richard Garcia (review)

American Studies
Volume 55, Number 1, 2016
pages 163-164
DOI: 10.1353/ams.2016.0057

David Colón-Cabrera

ON RACE AND MEDICINE: Insider Perspectives. Edited by Richard Garcia. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 2015.

The fields of anthropology and sociology, in addition to health sciences, have problematized the topic of race and medicine extensively. The dubious history of medical practice towards non-white bodies has left deep impacts on the manner in which biomedicine still speaks, treats, and cares for individuals who are not white. Medicine has its own white privilege problem in the way it often sets whiteness (and maleness) as the default body to research, treat, and care for. On Race and Medicine reflects on these challenges by providing an insight into the experiences of practitioners and researchers at the intersection of race and healthcare.

The book falls within the purview of current research and theory exploring the cultural, social, and political aspects of science. While the book does not specifically identify its aim and scope within Science and Technology Studies, it focuses on those involved in the production and practice of medicine. On Race and Medicine relies on narratives that characterize the multidisciplinary nature of medicine from the perspective of a diverse group of academics and health practitioners—though only a third are women. The book presents the experiences and trajectories of the collaborators and their induction to the topic of race within healthcare. Edited by Richard Garcia, the book’s four sections attempt to retrospectively challenge the manner in which health disparities have been evaluated in recent decades. The first section, Health Disparities, sets the tone by arguing how historical and environmental factors can help explain current health disparities. The Personal Essay presents the omnipresent effect that a racial and ethnic identity has in developing attitudes and behaviors towards healthcare. In Race and Medicine several collaborators reflect on their own biases, attitudes, privileges, and experiences at the intersection of race and medicine. Collaborators recount their challenging experiences encountering medicine while being an ethnic/racial other or being exposed to the ethnic/racial other. Finally, in Towards Solutions, the collaborators discuss the limitations that they deal with in their work and practice. The latter sections are the core of the book since they answer the editor’s central question: “But is this form—rather than the traditional writing of social science or public health—useful, or even necessary?” (31). The use of “forensic chapters” (4) by the collaborators exemplify the manner in which medicine deals with the lived experiences of ethnic and racial minorities, and invite the reader to reflect on those challenges.

Garcia and collaborators seem to be writing for health professionals who are reticent to appreciate the value of personal essays as a narrative tool to explain the complexity of race and healthcare. The editor makes a compelling, though limited, argument supporting the study of health disparities in the US. On Race and Medicine relies on an abundance of sociological and anthropological knowledge, but the editor’s discussions referencing these disciplines could have benefitted from more depth; for example, on pages 4–5 Garcia states: “I imagine the topic of health disparities as a section in a syllabus of an American studies course, along with the other sections that consider race in America.” He appears to overlook the fact that fields in anthropology, sociology, the humanities and public health have crafted entire programs and courses that examine race and medicine in a holistic manner. Similarly, Garcia’s exhortation, “I’d call for a moratorium on disparities studies if anyone were listening. We know. They exist. Enough studies already. Now let’s fix them” (160) misses the point by inadvertently minimizing the scholarship of the aforementioned disciplines.

Garcia and collaborators provide contrasting and dynamic insights that challenge some of the notions of race and healthcare in a very personal way. The value of this book lies in the personal contributions alluding to the diversity of socioeconomics and relative privilege within ethnic and racial communities, and their influence on health-seeking behaviors and attitudes. At the end of the book, in regard to the challenges that the interaction of race and healthcare cause, Garcia poses the question “What can I do?” (166). This seems an unspoken call…

Tags: , , ,

The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity by Gregory D. Smithers (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2016-08-15 15:35Z by Steven

The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity by Gregory D. Smithers (review)

Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Volume 47, Number 2, Autumn 2016
pages 241-242

Tyler Boulware, Associate Professor of History
West Virginia University

The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity. By Gregory D. Smithers (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2015) 368 pp. $40.00

Scholars have studied the Cherokee from many angles, ranging from political, diplomatic, and economic histories to interdisciplinary explorations of race, gender, class, and kinship. Smithers offers a new take on the history of the Cherokee, their experiences as a diasporic people. Focusing on the years between 1756 and 1945, and largely unfolding in linear fashion, The Cherokee Diaspora underscores the importance of migration and settlement. The pressures of settler colonialism prompted many of the Cherokee in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to relocate to different areas of the Southeast, while others moved farther afield beyond the Mississippi River. This vanguard of migration to the West, Smithers argues, occurred on an unprecedented scale, only to be eclipsed by near wholesale displacement during the removal crisis. Migration and resettlement continued thereafter, as individuals, families, and kin groups scattered across the United States during the Civil War—the subsequent period of allotment and assimilation—and later during the termination and relocation era of the twentieth century.

Regardless of era or destination, the Cherokee in diaspora sought to maintain a distinct sense of themselves. Critical to this endeavor was the rise of the Cherokee nation-state and the multiracial elites who, though often splintered, sought to protect Cherokee peoples and lands. What emerged, Smithers writes, was Cherokee attachment to a new political homeland, the Cherokee Nation in present day Oklahoma, and an ancestral homeland in the southern Appalachians (which also served as a political homeland for the Eastern Band Cherokee). The post-removal political homeland was especially important because it gave the Cherokee across the continent a “political focal point on which to fix their allegiance” (116).

A major sub-theme of the book is how these two homelands became important to Cherokee identity, particularly legal identity, and how Cherokee leaders struggled to define citizenship. This issue assumed greater urgency during and after the Civil War as a shrinking territorial base became threatened by “intruders,” many of whom claimed Cherokee citizenship. Forced “to determine who was and was not Cherokee,” officials enacted laws and erected bureaucratic impediments to inhibit the path to citizenship (175). Smithers notes that race often played a critical factor in deciding the fate of citizenship applications, resulting in many “African Cherokees” being denied both citizenship and a legitimate claim to Cherokee identity (222).

The Cherokee Diaspora covers its extended chronology well, treating removal as only one moment (albeit a traumatic one) of a longer diasporic history and converging the Eastern Band and Cherokee Nation into a singular analysis. Smithers draws upon an array of scholarship and extensive archival research to explore the interconnected concepts of migration, memory, and identity. Interdisciplinary approaches influence the work, but Smithers’ methodology is squarely grounded in the field of history. Scholars from other disciplines will find much to like in this book, but they would also expect more. Anthropologists, for instance, would require such a study to be informed by ethnographic field-work and a consideration of contemporary Cherokee voices, thereby making the work more of an “indigenous history.” They would want to know more the contribution of clan membership and identity to a sense of belonging throughout this long era of migration and resettlement. Nevertheless, Smithers provides a nuanced and convincing analysis of the Cherokee diaspora. His account, at its essence, is “a story of how the Cherokee became a diasporic people, and continued to be Cherokee” (24). It is a story well worth telling…

Tags: , , ,

My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal review – a touching, thought-provoking debut

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2016-07-30 02:19Z by Steven

My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal review – a touching, thought-provoking debut

The Guardian

Bernardine Evaristo

Insight and authenticity … Kit de Waal. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

A young vulnerable boy is taken into care after his mother is no longer able to cope

Kit de Waal has already garnered praise and attention for her short fiction. She worked in family and criminal law for many years, and wrote training manuals on fostering and adoption; she also grew up with a mother who fostered children. This helps explain the level of insight and authenticity evident in My Name Is Leon, her moving and thought-provoking debut novel.

It is set in the early 1980s and, like What Maisie Knew and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is told through the perspective of a child who is keenly observant, although we understand more of what is happening around him than he does. In this case, the narrator is eight-year-old Leon, who becomes a foster child. The novel begins with the birth of his baby brother, Jake. Immediately we realise that there is something wrong with their mother, Carol. Rather than cradle the child she has just given birth to, she leaves the hospital room to have a cigarette. The nurse leaves too and tells Leon, “If he starts crying, you come and fetch me. OK?” Leon is left on his own with Jake. The novel is full of quietly shocking moments like this, which reveal how much child protection has moved on from 30 years ago.

The brothers have different, and absent, fathers. While Carol and Jake are white, Leon is mixed race. His father, Byron, is in prison, while Jake’s father, Tony, has rejected Carol and their child. Home is on an estate near a dual carriageway. Carol often leaves her boys alone in the flat when she goes out…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

Daniel, G. Reginald. Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2012. Print. [McNee Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2016-07-28 00:09Z by Steven

Daniel, G. Reginald. Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2012. Print. [McNee Review]

ellipsis (now Journal of Lusophone Studies)
Volume 13 (2015)
pages 255-257

Malcolm K. McNee, Associate Professor of Spanish & Portuguese
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

G. Reginald Daniel, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012), pp. xi + 338, \$74.95, hb.

In this smart, ambitiously interdisciplinary, and exhaustively researched book, G. Reginald Daniel, Professor of Sociology at UCSB and pioneer in the study of multiracial identity and experience from a transnational perspective, considers the life and work of Machado de Assis. It is a sweeping book that draws upon the vastness of Machadian studies, in which Daniel is clearly versed, along with the sociology of race and culture, literary history and periodization, and theories of modernity and postmodernism. In  its engagement with this range of theoretical and disciplinary configurations, Daniel’s book, organized into an introduction, nine chapters, and an epilogue co-authored with Gary L. Haddow, is in some senses two books in one, each with a distinct yet analogous argument. Each line of inquiry results in a significant and original contribution to Machadian studies. Combined, they position Daniel’s book as the most thorough English-language treatment of the Brazilian writer’s life and work since John Gledson’s translation of Roberto Schwarz’s A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism (Duke UP, 2001). Standing along with Earl Fitz’s Machado de Assis and Female Characterization (Bucknell UP, 2014), and a welcome round of new translations, Daniel’s book will help to reinvigorate and deepen Machado’s reception among English-language readers and his stature among the major figures of world literature…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

G. Reginald Daniel, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012), pp. xi + 338, \$74.95, hb. [Gledson Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2016-07-27 16:59Z by Steven

G. Reginald Daniel, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012), pp. xi + 338, \$74.95, hb. [Gledson Review]

Journal of Latin American Studies
Volume 47 / Issue 03 / August 2015
pages 607-608
DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X15000528

John Gledson, Emeritus Professor of Brazilian Studies
University of Liverpool

G. Reginald Daniel, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012), pp. xi + 338, \$74.95, hb.

Increasingly, over the last 10 or 20 years, critics have taken an interest in Machado de Assis’s racial origins, and in the effect they may have had on his career, his opinions and his writings. We know that he was the child of a father described as ‘pardo, forro’, and a Portuguese mother, from the Azores. In 2007, Eduardo de Assis Duarte published his Machado de Assis afrodescendente, which documents most of the references to the matter, and more generally to slavery and its effects, in the works, novels, stories crônicas, and so on.

It is a complex topic: we have little or no unambiguous evidence of what this most ironic and secretive writer thought about the colour of his skin, though we can have little doubt that he would have smiled with a certain amount of bitterness (and who knows, some perverse satisfaction) at the description of his colour as ‘branco’ on his death certificate.

G. Reginald Daniel’s book is certainly the longest treatment of the subject, and perhaps the most comprehensive. A great deal is given over to discussions of the contexts, historical and theoretical, which surround it. The first chapter deals with the history of miscegenation in Brazil since 1500, the second with other mulatto writers before Machado and contemporary with him (Caldas Barbosa, Luís Gama, José do Patrocínio, Lima Barreto); in the third Machado’s life is recounted in some detail. It is a faithful account, though with some mistakes. Machado did not translate Oliver Twist from English, as Jean-Michel Massa proved, nor is it necessarily true that he suffered from epilepsy all his life. The first of two stories entitled ‘Mariana’ is twice given the date 1864, instead of 1871 (the year of the Law of the Free Womb). There is no series of crônicas entitled Crônicas do relojoeiro signed ‘Policarpo’. José Galante de Sousa’s Bibliografia de Machado de Assis is, astonishingly, missing from the very extensive bibliography. Some important and relatively unknown facts, however, are there, like Gonçalves Crespo’s 1871 hesitant letter saying he has heard he is an ‘homem de cor’. Large parts of the later chapters are given over to accounts of other writers (Graça Aranha, for instance, and Euclides da Cunha) and other issues which sometimes have no real connection to Machado (negritude, for instance)…

Read or purchase the review here.

Tags: , , , ,

‘Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings’ reimagines difficult history

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-24 00:23Z by Steven

‘Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings’ reimagines difficult history

The Chicago Tribune

Meredith Maran

“Until the lions have their own historians,” says an African proverb, “the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” The proverb offers one answer to a question that has long plagued writers, activists and historians. Who gets to tell the stories of those who have been denied the right to tell their own?

Given that heterosexual white men still get the, um, lion’s share of book contracts, should straight people write books about the gay rights movement? Should men write about the struggle for women’s equality? And — as with Harriet Beecher Stowe’sUncle Tom’s Cabin,” Mark Twain’sAdventures of Huckleberry Finn,” William Styron’s Pulitzer-winning “Confessions of Nat Turner” and now Stephen O’Connor’s Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings” —should a white person write a book whose central dilemma is slavery?

“Anyone has the right to write about any subject available to be written about,” historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. has said. But the white person who writes a 624-page novel about the 37-year love affair between a white slave owner — who happens to be the third president of the United States and author of the phrase “All men are created equal” — and a mixed-race slave — whom he happens to own and who happens to give birth to six of his children — had better have the politics, the courage and, most importantly, the storytelling skills to get it right.

Fortunately, O’Connor manifests an abundance of these qualities in “Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings,” his debut novel. Ambitious doesn’t begin to describe the scope of the project O’Connor undertook. And successful doesn’t begin to describe the wildly imaginative techniques he used to realize his authorial goal, which is clearly to humanize — equalize, you might say — the two members of this passionate, conflicted couple: the lionized, hypocritical Jefferson, who railed against slavery while owning slaves, and the powerful yet complicit Hemings, who loved and loathed her owner…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Crucifying the White Savior (Film)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-19 19:44Z by Steven

Crucifying the White Savior (Film)

Shadow and Act

Andre Seewood

We no longer have to forgive them, for they know exactly what they are doing.

The new film by Gary Ross, “The Free State of Jones” is uncontestably a White savior film. Laid bare, “The Free State of Jones” is a simplistically constructed tale of a Confederate army deserter who eventually lives in a polygamous relationship with a Black former slave named Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with whom he has a mixed race child and his White wife and their White child. The film’s story is a heroification of the 1862 true story of Newton Knight a real Confederate deserter from Jones County, Mississippi, who ironically didn’t actually “save” anyone, but instead merely prolonged the inevitable suffering of those Blacks and his mixed race progeny who were trapped within the White supremacist power structure of the United States of America.

The film builds its White savior character not in the broad conflicts between Confederate and Union soldiers, Free Black men and the KKK, but in small scenes of selfless heroism and demonstrative yet intimate “White-man- taking-charge- and-directing- the-actions- of-others” scenes that accumulate over the course of the two-and- a-half- hour film until there is no doubt about who is saving whom in a battle and who desperately needed to be protected from whom in a White supremacist society. Yet “The Free State of Jones” is an oddly racially segregated film that separates its Black token characters from its White fully developed characters, even as they fight (presumably) together to protect their illegal territory. There are certain battle and robbery scenes where no Black token is shown and others where Black tokens fight next to each other but are segregated from their fellow White fighters, revealing that Knight’s Free State was conditional at best. Moreover, the film never manages to convince the skeptical spectator that Knight’s higher ideals of freedom, autonomy, and “Every man is a man” equality were not simply rooted in his adulterous lust for a Black woman’s body.

However, if we take off the metaphorical rose colored glasses that director Gary Ross has placed in front of the camera, it is not too difficult to see that Newton Knight was merely a Confederate deserter who wanted to have his cake and eat it too- a Black mistress and a White wife – and through the benefit of his White privilege, he was allowed to do so with peculiar impunity until the end of his days…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Williamson]

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2016-07-19 01:23Z by Steven

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Williamson]

Rhetoric & Public Affairs
Vollume 18, Number 4, Winter 2015
pages 748-750

Jason G. Williamson
Department of Communication Studies
University of Georgia

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope. By Mark S. Ferrara. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2013; pp. 204. $45.00 paper.

In Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope, Mark S. Ferrara attempts to piece together the historical, intellectual, and literary influences of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign rhetoric, primarily as the “rhetoric of hope” was constructed leading up to the 2008 campaign and employed during that campaign, as well as its reemergence for 2012. Ferrara defines the rhetoric of hope as “deliberately constructed political discourse that envisions social betterment brought about by the force of shared values and culminating in a promise of a ‘more perfect union’ in the future” (11). The utopian idealism that percolates throughout Obama’s campaign discourse is of particular interest to Ferrara, especially as American rhetorical tropes are employed to discursively construct Obama as a “quasi-prophetic” figure who possesses the leadership skills necessary to move the country closer to collective salvation (14–15). Ferrara repeatedly observes the rhetoric of hope relying on a dialectical tension between the ideal and the actual, promising to transform the current status quo into a salvific telos.

The book is primarily organized into two major sections, with the first half (chapters 1–5) dedicated to locating historical and literary influences of Obama’s rhetoric of hope and the second half (chapters 6–10) investigating the values and characteristics of this rhetoric, concluding with a comparison of Obama’s two presidential campaigns. The opening chapters outline the manner in which utopian tropes derived from Judeo-Christian thought (chapter 1) as well as the European Enlightenment (chapter 2) influence Obama’s rhetoric. In the three chapters that follow, Ferrara continues [End Page 748] pulling on individual threads, such as slave narratives (chapter 3); the presidential traditions of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt (chapter 4); and the influence of fiction, music, and popular culture (chapter 5), arguing that these threads, woven together, form Obama’s rhetoric of hope.

In the second half, Ferrara moves beyond the antecedents of the rhetoric of hope, presenting a reading of Obama’s campaign rhetoric as an amalgam of multiple influences. Chapter 6 analyzes the role of American values in the rhetoric of hope, culminating in Obama’s embodiment of the American Dream, a combination of individual determination and community awareness with a heavy emphasis on “work” as an operative term, a theme that the president continues in his second term, as evident in the most recent State of the Union address. Ferrara approaches Obama’s discourse with an Aristotelian conception of rhetoric and places a heavy emphasis on the deliberate decisions of the rhetor, highlighting Obama’s role as a writing subject constructing his own narrative persona in chapter 7. Ferrara, an assistant professor of English at State University of New York at Oneonta, reads Obama’s autobiographical narratives as an effort in which Obama “casts himself as a prophet of change situated by virtue of his unique American story to usher in a new global order” (135). Ferrara locates Obama within the tradition of political autobiographical works in American history “from John Smith to Benjamin Franklin to Malcolm X,” arguing that Obama intentionally constructs his own story in such a way as to build on American mythologies (125). The climax is perhaps seen in Obama’s 2008 tour of the Middle East and Europe (chapter 8), where his narrative positions Obama as a figure that can unite American ideals with a global, multicultural audience. The final two chapters track the continuation of the 2008 campaign themes in 2011 and 2012, underscoring the claim that “the rhetoric of hope contains a neat circularity that is the product of intentional design” (187). Whether by intent or not, the characteristics of the rhetoric of hope obviously manifest in Obama’s campaigns.

Throughout, Ferrara’s analysis casts light on many aspects of Obama’s rhetoric that the reader will find intuitive. Although his prose is occasionally too driven by quotations and not enough of the author’s own voice, the text and analysis is accessible for a wide audience. Readers who study presidential rhetoric will immediately note the pronounced absence…

Tags: , , , ,

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Ellis]

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, United States on 2016-07-19 00:24Z by Steven

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Ellis]

Utopian Studies
Volume 27, Number 2, 2016
pages 382-386

Cameron Ellis
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Mark S. Ferrara. Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2013. 204 pp. Paper, $29.95, isbn 978-0-7864-6793-8

Mark S. Ferrara’s principle scholarly interests lie within the fields of religious studies and Asian philosophy, as indicated on his State University of New York–Oneonta English faculty page and demonstrated in his other books Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (co-edited with Ronald R. Gray, Peter Lang, 2009) and Palace of Ashes: China and the Decline of American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). However, it is his interests in rhetoric and political discourse, cultural studies, and world literature that make Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope such an insightful and pleasant contribution to the commentary on and criticism of the outgoing president. Ferrara wastes no time using his resources to contextualize the significance his study of the president has—especially as of 2008, which saw Obama being elected for the first time—by citing a Chinese proverb: “chaotic times make heroes (shi shi zao ying xiong)” (19). Although not mentioned explicitly, this proverb alludes to Obama’s inheritance of an extremely precarious geopolitical situation left festering by the Bush administration. (In fact, even though I wanted him to “go there,” Ferrara steers clear of the dangerous intricacies entwining Obama’s legacy in terms of Bush’s. The first explicit mention of Bush does not even appear until page 99.) Not only is this book a wonderful contribution to the study of American history and political science, but also it is a decidedly welcome addition to utopian studies by way of its analysis of one of the most important figures to date.

The advantage that adopting a utopian analytic in such a case study as Obama is that Ferrara liberates the conversation he seeks to facilitate from regressing into polemics and partisan politics, the kind that one sees most negatively worked out in other works on the president such as Stanley Kurts’s Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (Simon and Schuster, 2010), Dinesh D’souza’s Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream (Regnery Publishing, 2012), and Bob Thiel’s Barack Obama, Prophesy, and the Destruction of the United States (Nazarene Books, 2012), which read into the president signs and symptoms of America’s downfall. While it is quite clear that Ferrara is a champion of Obama, it never feels as though he is hitting his reader over the head with his views. Rather, Ferrara encourages his reader to recall that, regardless of one’s political alliance, Obama ran two successful campaigns on a positive message: hope. One of the greatest strengths of Ferrara’s book resides in his skill of presenting this aspect of the president while refraining from sentimentalism and nostalgia. Instead the reader is offered a well-researched piece of scholarly labor by one of the best in the field of rhetoric and political discourse.

I came to this book as an outsider to American history, but after reading it I feel as though I have a much-improved sense of the American tradition insofar as that tradition is one rooted in idealism. Ferrara helps his reader better understand how Obama captured this idealism and utilized it in terms of his political rhetoric. “Since this is a rhetorical study,” Ferrara writes early on, “… I am grateful to be spared the burden of aligning the word with reality—a task best left to the political pundits. My interest is specifically in the evocation of a better future toward which we progress gradually, one that offers a sort of collective salvation” (14–15). Drawing heavily on Obama’s own writings—namely, Dreams from My Father (2004) and The Audacity of Hope (2008)—Ferrara exercises academic rigor and resists needless sentimentalism by skillfully integrating these popular texts into the web of political speeches and interviews that flood the information highway. Starting in chapter 1 Ferrara grounds his study of Obama’s rhetoric of hope in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: “Images of collectivist rebellion against the evils of…

Tags: , , ,