THE PERSISTENCE OF THE COLOR LINE
Pantheon Books, 2011
Those who believe Barack Obama’s election signaled a final triumph over racism will learn much from former Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, whose writings on race in America have delighted and provoked many (e.g., his book Nigger). In this book, which explores how race has shaped Americans’ responses to Obama, Kennedy presents convincing evidence that race remains a dominant focus of American political consciousness. When Obama ran for the presidency, his racial identity shaped how commentators described him. For example, Fox News commentator Juan Williams attributed Obama’s popularity to his avoidance of the “self-defeating” politics of the 1960s, which highlighted race. And black leftist commentators, Kennedy maintains, were willing to support any black candidate regardless of the candidate’s political commitments, a position that many came to regret. Kennedy also explores the divisions among Americans about the kind of racial regime they want to create. Some use a vision of a color-blind future to argue against efforts at integration and affirmative action in the present. Others embrace color blindness as an ultimate goal but believe it can best be achieved by policies that are temporarily race-conscious. Still others reject the aspiration for a post-racial American society and resent the notion that the erasure of nonwhite difference is a requisite for “progress” on racial issues. This book is packed full of questions that never get publicly debated in mainstream American politics.