Whoa, We Have a Black President

Whoa, We Have a Black President

Zócalo: Public Square

Randall Kennedy Assesses Obama’s Triumphs—and Shortcomings—In Erasing the Color Line

Randall Kennedy, Harvard professor of law and author of The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency, had an assignment: to answer whether or not Obama has been erasing the color line. “By color line,” explained Kennedy, “I mean all of the sentiments, instincts, habits of mind, structures that wrongly stymie people because of race. Is Obama erasing that baleful aspect of political culture?”
In a word, said Kennedy, yes. But there was a caveat: the “Obama way” is to avoiding talking about race at every turn.
According to Kennedy, Obama’s most impressive feat was to treat making it to the White House as a realistic, tenable option. His legacy, Kennedy believes, will be the alteration of public psychology to a place of normalizing a black presidency. After four years, people will have accepted seeing a black man enter and exit Air Force One.
“It was so audacious because of the history of the U.S.,” he said.
As Kennedy reminded the audience, a crowd of a few hundred gathered in an auditorium in the Hammer Museum, African-Americans were largely excluded from politics until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Blacks were excluded by dint of terror throughout the deep South, excluded by dint of various legal shenanigans,” Kennedy said….

…Kennedy’s own criticisms of Obama only came up in the question-and-answer portion of the evening. Kennedy said he believes that Obama didn’t actively do enough to change the ideological landscape of the country and that he was sheepish about outwardly supporting liberal judges. Kennedy was most critical of Obama’s stances surrounding gay rights, finding it ironic that when Obama’s parents married across racial boundaries it was considered a felony in many places. Now Obama is pushing a “separate but equal” equivalent in the gay community…

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