|Barack Obama, Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-05-26 23:07Z by Steven|
Princeton University Press
5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Cloth ISBN: 9780691137308
eBook ISBN: 9781400834198
Thomas J. Sugrue, David Boies Professor of History and Professor of Sociology
University of Pennsylvania
Finalist, The 2010 Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change National Book Award, The University of Memphis
Barack Obama, in his acclaimed campaign speech discussing the troubling complexities of race in America today, quoted William Faulkner’s famous remark “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” In Not Even Past, award-winning historian Thomas Sugrue examines the paradox of race in Obama’s America and how President Obama intends to deal with it.
Obama’s journey to the White House undoubtedly marks a watershed in the history of race in America. Yet even in what is being hailed as the post-civil rights era, racial divisions–particularly between blacks and whites—remain deeply entrenched in American life. Sugrue traces Obama’s evolving understanding of race and racial inequality throughout his career, from his early days as a community organizer in Chicago, to his time as an attorney and scholar, to his spectacular rise to power as a charismatic and savvy politician, to his dramatic presidential campaign. Sugrue looks at Obama’s place in the contested history of the civil rights struggle; his views about the root causes of black poverty in America; and the incredible challenges confronting his historic presidency.
Does Obama’s presidency signal the end of race in American life? In Not Even Past, a leading historian of civil rights, race, and urban America offers a revealing and unflinchingly honest assessment of the culture and politics of race in the age of Obama, and of our prospects for a postracial America.
Table of Contents
- CHAPTER I: “This Is My Story”: Obama, Civil Rights, and Memory
- CHAPTER II: Obama and the Truly Disadvantaged: The Politics of Race and Class
- CHAPTER III: “A More Perfect Union”? The Burden of Race in Obama’s America
It is now a commonplace that the election of Barack Obama marks the opening of a new period in America’s long racial history. The unlikely rise of a black man to the nation’s highest office—someone who was a mostly unknown state senator only five years before he was inaugurated president—confirms the view of many, especially whites, that the United States is a postracial society. At last, the shackles of discrimination have been broken and individual merit is rewarded, regardless of skin color. In this view, blackness—once the clearest marker of difference in American society—has lost some or all of its stigma. Barack Obama, in the most common formulation, transcends race; his ancestry fuses African and European into a new hybrid; his political vision of unity discredits those who cling bitterly to notions of racial superiority and, at the same time, rebukes those who harbor a divisive identity politics fueled by an exaggerated sense of racial grievance.
As with all interpretations of the relationship between the past and the present, the notion that Obama’s election marks an epochal change in racial dynamics is not without its critics. Obama himself offers a tempered view, suggesting that even if America has advanced considerably over the last forty years, some racial prejudices remain in place and some racial discrimination still exists. In his view, we have realized much, but not all, of the dream of racial equality. Other commentators, like Berkeley historian David Hollinger, suggest that Obama heralds the emergence of a new, multihued racial order, a majority-minority society where static notions of race are losing their purchase, and where race-specific remedies like affirmative action have outlived their usefulness. Many scholars and pundits further to the left, by contrast, are skeptical that much has changed at all. They point to the angry denunciations of Obama during his campaign and since his inauguration (Obama as Muslim, Obama as black man in whiteface, Obama as witch doctor, Obama as noncitizen) as evidence of a deep-seated racism that is inflamed by the discomfiting presence of a brown-hued man in the White House.
In the most dystopian vision, offered by Duke sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, the symbolism of an African-descended president obscures a deeper, more troubling reality: the “Latin Americanization” of the United States, namely, the emergence of a society where a tripartite system of color gradation will supplant the “one-drop rule” of racial classification, but where the darkest-skinned racial minorities remain concentrated at the bottom…
…To understand Obama’s life and times requires an examination of race and racial politics. It is safe to say that few domestic issues have been more controversial in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America. And few issues have generated more passion among scholars and journalists. Debates about civil rights, black power, race consciousness, and inequality are often couched in predictable and analytically problematic formulations that reflect the moral dualism that still shapes our understandings of race. The first binary—“race versus class”—inflects much scholarship and liberal journalism about race. Either race matters as a dominant force or it is a screen—or a form of false consciousness—that masks far deeper inequalities of class. This is a simplistic formulation that downplays the ways that racial and economic disadvantages are fundamentally intertwined, and fails to address how the American economy generates inequalities that affect people regardless of their background but are still disproportionatelyborne by people of color. A second binary—with special hold in public discourse—is “racism versus color blindness.” This contrasts a pathology and a principle, a flawed reality and an ideal. But it, too, does not stand up to close scrutiny. As legal scholar Richard Thompson Ford has argued, to hurl the invective “racist” loosely is to put too much weight on individual beliefs or values. And conversely, to proclaim color blindness is to overlook the ways that racial inequalities persist and sometimes harden regardless of the good intentions or the benign disposition of any single actor. There are stone-cold racists in America, and there are people who believe that they are wholly free of prejudice. Ultimately, the most enduring racial inequalities in the United States today are not the consequence of conspiracy or intention, or even the unconscious prejudice that neuropsychologists argue exists in the amygdala; rather they stem from the long-term institutional legacies of economic and public policies that have systematically disadvantaged African Americans and, when left unaltered, continue to do so in key realms of American life today. The third binary is “pessimism versus optimism.” Either America is still a profoundly racist society, or we have mostly overcome past racial injustices. Any clear-eyed examination of race in modern America must recognize the changes that have transformed the life chances of African Americans in the United States since the mid-twentieth century, and that enabled Barack Obama’s remarkable ascent through some of America’s most prestigious institutions and ultimately to the White House—most of them the result of grassroots activism, litigation, and public policy innovation. And it must also account for what even a cursory review of census data, opinion surveys, and health, educational, and housing statistics reveals: namely, that racial gaps are deep and persistent in American life. Those statistics, the way that Obama understands and interprets them, and the ways that Americans in general make sense of them, are at the heart of this book…
Read the entire Introduction here.