Race and the Obama Phenomenon

Race and the Obama Phenomenon: The Vision of a More Perfect Multiracial Union

G. Reginald Daniel
Hettie V. Williams
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1647cng
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  • Book Info
    Race and the Obama Phenomenon
    Book Description:

    The concept of a more perfect union remains a constant theme in the political rhetoric of Barack Obama. From his now historic race speech to his second victory speech delivered on November 7, 2012, that striving is evident. "Tonight, more than two hundred years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward," stated the forty-fourth president of the United States upon securing a second term in office after a hard fought political contest. Obama borrows this rhetoric from the founding documents of the United States set forth in the U.S. Constitution and in Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."

    How naive or realistic is Obama's vision of a more perfect American union that brings together people across racial, class, and political lines? How can this vision of a more inclusive America be realized in a society that remains racist at its core? These essays seek answers to these complicated questions by examining the 2008 and 2012 elections as well as the events of President Obama's first term. Written by preeminent race scholars from multiple disciplines, the volume brings together competing perspectives on race, gender, and the historic significance of Obama's election and reelection. The president heralded in his November, 2012, acceptance speech, "The idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like . . . . whether you're black or white, Hispanic or Asian or Native American." These essayists argue the truth of that statement and assess whether America has made any progress toward that vision.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-042-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. IX-XVIII)
    HETTIE V. WILLIAMS and G. REGINALD DANIEL
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XIX-XX)
  5. FOREWORD Race Will Survive the Obama Phenomenon
    (pp. XXI-XXXII)
    DAVID ROEDIGER

    THE IDEA OF RACE EMERGED AMID EVOLVING PROCESSES IN WHICH GOVERNMENT, economy, and society sorted people into very different relationships to property, management, punishment, and citizenship, according to fictive biological categories. Great struggles, peaking in the 1860s and 1870s, and again a century later, forced important changes. But those struggles lost momentum and unity before effecting other political economic changes that might have decisively disconnected color from degradation and suspicion, leaving even formal, legal equality fragile. They also allowed room for the development of new racial sorting by state-sponsored incarceration and deportation.

    With whites today having, on average, more than...

  6. INTRODUCTION Understanding Obama and Ourselves
    (pp. XXXIII-XLII)
    GEORGE LIPSITZ

    RACE AND THE OBAMA PHENOMENON: THE VISION OF A MORE PERFECT Multiracial Unionoffers something for everyone. The seventeen essays compiled in this collection by G. Reginald Daniel and Hettie V. Williams present a broad range of perspectives, positions, ideas, and interpretations. The authors disagree with each other about the significance of the election of Barack Obama as president, and these disagreements reveal deep divisions about many of the most important issues of our time. In attempting to understand the importance of Obama, these essays demonstrate that we need to know more about ourselves and each other—about our identities...

  7. PART I RACE, OBAMA, AND MULTIRACIALITY

    • 1. RACE AND MULTIRACIALITY From Barack Obama to Trayvon Martin
      (pp. 3-40)
      G. REGINALD DANIEL

      THE RULE OF HYPODESCENT IS A SOCIAL CODE DESIGNATING RACIAL group membership of first-generation offspring of unions between European Americans and Americans of color exclusively based on their background of color. Successive generations of individuals who have European American ancestry combined with a background of color have more flexibility in terms of self-identification. The one-drop rule of hypodescent designates as black everyone with any African American ancestry (“one-drop of blood”). It precludes any choice in self-identification and ensures that all future offspring of African American ancestry are socially designated and self-identified as black (Daniel 2002, ix–xi, 16–17, 37;...

    • 2. BY CASTA, COLOR WHEEL, AND COMPUTER GRAPHICS Visual Representations of Racially Mixed People
      (pp. 41-61)
      GREG CARTER

      TODAY, VISUAL REPRESENTATIONS OF RACIALLY MIXED PEOPLE REFLECT a general level of acceptance greater than past periods in U.S. history. Marketing and casting executives use ambiguous-appearing bodies to reach more segments of the public, and to evoke positive notions about diversity. These images seem to praise ambiguity and the disruptive potential of mixed race. However, some reflect a long-standing obsession with percentages of racial makeup, offering a rich field for analysis. From the eighteenth century to the present, through different media, visual representations of racially mixed people in the Americas have continued a tradition of organizing bodies into stable racial...

    • 3. BARACK OBAMA Embracing Multiplicity—Being a Catalyst for Change
      (pp. 62-83)
      JANET C. MENDOZA STICKMON

      PEOPLE OF MULTIETHNIC BACKGROUNDS ARE ACCUSTOMED TO EXISTING at the intersections of multiple worlds and multiple identities, holding and juggling those spaces in tension.¹ We become adept at navigating in, out, and through numerous ethno-racial and ethno-cultural contexts. The more one enters and exits these contexts and the more one critically examines racial hierarchy and essentialism and their impact on the dynamics between racial groups, the more pronounced one’s experience of multiraciality and multiethnicity becomes. An understanding of critical race theory coupled with the experience of existing within the interstices of life—surviving and thriving in a world dominated by...

    • 4. IN PURSUIT OF SELF The Identity of an American President and Cosmopolitanism
      (pp. 84-114)
      HETTIE V. WILLIAMS

      BARACK OBAMA PROJECTS AN IDENTITY THAT IS FRAGMENTED AS OPPOSED to an identity that is essentialist or unitary. In nearly every public setting where the issue of his race has been introduced, Obama, although he routinely self-identifies (Avila 2010) as an African American, continuously acknowledges his mixed-race heritage. He rarely fails to mention the gratitude he feels towards his white grandparents for raising him. In his autobiography he states, “I can’t even hold up my experience as being somehow representative of the black American experience” (Obama 1995, xvi). Obama makes this statement in the same breath in which he claims...

  8. PART II OBAMA, BLACKNESS, AND THE “POST-RACIAL IDEA”

    • 5. BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, OR, THE NAME OF THE FATHER
      (pp. 117-132)
      TAVIA NYONG’O

      WHILE MANY COMMENTATORS HAVE HELD FORTH ON THE POSSIBILITY that Barack Obama might be our first “post-racial” president, and while others have subjected this notion to a perhaps deserved derision, few have been as interested in contemplating another, equally likely prospect: Obama would be, and now is, our first postcolonialpresident.* This silence bespeaks the degree to which “empire” remains a name that is still, on many public occasions, forbidden to pronounce. And Obama’s relationship to the colonial-modern is so obvious, yet so hard to hold consistently in view, like the nose on one’s face. Barack Hussein Obama has a...

    • 6. THE END(S) OF DIFFERENCE? Towards an Understanding of the “Post” in “Post-Racial”
      (pp. 133-146)
      LISA ANDERSON-LEVY

      DURING THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY, AS SENATOR BARACK OBAMA CREPT ahead in the delegate count and later in the presidential election, he was referred to as the post-racial candidate, was lauded for running a post-race campaign, and/or was described as marking the beginning of an era when race matters less—a post-race moment.¹ Of course, these usages of “postrace” mean different things to differing constituencies. On the one hand, this term was used to refer to Obama representing a new black politics and politician, one that is not seen as emerging from the civil rights movement in the same way that...

    • 7. ON THE IMPOSSIBILITIES OF A POST-RACIST AMERICA IN THE OBAMA ERA
      (pp. 147-166)
      KARANJA KEITA CARROLL

      THIS CHAPTER INTERROGATES THE REALITY OF RACISM AND WHITE SUpremacy in what some today refer to as “the Obama era” and what others regard as evidence of a “post-racist America.” By utilizing an Africancentered conceptual framework, centering on culture and worldview, this discourse constitutes a critical examination of the impossibilities of a postracist America by investigating the lived experiences of African-descended people and other communities of color. Through this analysis, it will be evident that while we may be in “the Obama era,” we are far from a post-racist society. Thus, discussions of post-racism are assessed as conceptual masks used...

    • 8. OBAMA, THE INSTABILITY OF COLOR LINES, AND THE PROMISE OF A POSTETHNIC FUTURE
      (pp. 167-174)
      DAVID A. HOLLINGER

      THE FOCUS OF MEDIA DEPICTIONS OF BARACK OBAMA AS A “POST-RAcial,” “post-black,” or postethnic” candidate is usually limited to two aspects of his presidential campaign. First, his self-presentation with minimal references to his color. Unlike Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, whose presidential candidacies were more directed at the significance of the color line, Obama has never offered himself as the candidate of a particular ethno-racial group. Second, the press calls attention to the willingness of millions of white voters to respond to Obama. Some of his greatest margins in primary elections and caucuses were in heavily white states like Idaho...

  9. PART III RACE, GENDER, AND THE OBAMA PHENOMENON

    • 9. FROM CHATTEL TO FIRST LADY Black Women Moving from the Margins
      (pp. 177-200)
      MARSHA J. TYSON DARLING

      ONLYTHE BLACK WOMAN CAN SAY, “WHEN AND WHERE I ENTER, IN THE quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the wholeNegro race enters with me” (Cooper 1892, 31).

      This quote is taken from a speech delivered to black clergymen by Anna Julia Cooper in 1886, a tumultuous year following the Civil War. In “Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” Cooper, an admired public speaker, expressed black women’s sense of a pursuit of self-discovery. She eloquently captured the relationship between the advancement of...

    • 10. THE “OUTSIDER” AND THE PRESIDENCY Mediated Representations of Race and Gender in the 2008 Presidential Primaries
      (pp. 201-224)
      TESSA DITONTO

      THE THREE QUOTATIONS ABOVE, TAKEN FROM THENEW YORK TIMESANDthe Washington Postand chosen from three different points along the campaign timeline of the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, exemplify the extraordinary nature of this unprecedented race. Not only were the two Democratic front runners a black man and a white woman, but they competed on very similar policy platforms in the closest primary race in recent history. Because of the exceptional nature of a contest in which, for the first time, either a member of a minority racial group or a woman was assured to win their party’s...

    • 11. OBAMA’S “UNISEX” CAMPAIGN Masculinities, Race, and Law
      (pp. 225-243)
      FRANK RUDY COOPER

      DURING THE 2008 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, THERE WAS A significant discourse in the media about Senator Barack Obama’s feminity. When he faced Senator Hillary Clinton in the primaries, the head of a women’s non-profit said, “He’s the girl in the race.”¹ The idea was that while Clinton was tough and hawkish, Obama was empathetic and inclusive (Linsky 2008). Carol Marin expressed that point of view in an editorial in theChicago Sun Times:

      “If Bill Clinton was once considered America’s first black president, Obama may one day be viewed as our first woman president.” While Hillary Clinton, the warrior, battles...

    • 12. “EVERYTHING HIS FATHER WAS NOT” Fatherhood and Father Figures in Barack Obama’s First Term
      (pp. 244-262)
      HEIDI ARDIZZONE

      “ARE YOU OKAY, BABY?” THE FORTY-FOURTH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED States coos at the baby fussing in his wife’s arms; her back is initially to the camera, obscuring her face and the child. “Oh, no! Oh!” he laughs, as the fussing escalates to loud cries. In a video released by the White House just before Father’s Day, 2011, the Obamas are chatting with a small group of mostly white families who laugh sympathetically with their attempts to soothe their temporary charge. As the First Lady starts to return the now loudly unhappy infant, the mother asks instead for a photo...

  10. PART IV RACE, POLITICS, AND THE OBAMA PHENOMENON

    • 13. BARACK OBAMA’S ADDRESS TO THE 2004 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION Trauma, Compromise, Consilience, and the (Im)Possibility of Racial Reconciliation
      (pp. 265-286)
      DAVID A. FRANK and MARK LAWRENCE McPHAIL

      ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR BARACK OBAMA’S KEYNOTE ADDRESS TO THE 2004 Democratic National Convention marked an important moment in the trajectory of African American rhetoric. His speech earned two reasonable responses, one upward-inflected and the other downward-inflected (Robeson, Jr. 2004, 13; Kaplan 2004; Tilove 2004a; Tilove 2004b). For one of the authors of this essay, David A. Frank, Obama articulates a post–civil rights rhetoric intended to bring the various components of his composite audience (an audience “embracing people differing in character, loyalties, and functions”) into rapprochement (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca 1969, 21).¹ The core value at the center of Obama’s speech...

    • 14. BARACK OBAMA’S WHITE APPEAL AND THE PERVERSE RACIAL POLITICS OF THE POST–CIVIL RIGHTS ERA
      (pp. 287-310)
      PAUL STREET

      I ONCE GAVE A TALK ABOUT RACISM THAT WAS FOLLOWED BY AN INTEResting comment from a middle-aged white man. “You can’t seriously imagine that racism is still a big problem in the United States,” this man said, “when millions of white Americans are ready to vote for Barack Obama, a black man, for president.”

      I wrote an article on Obama that elicited the following response from a white Republican science professor in a Detroit suburb: “If Obama gets elected president, it would be a big—probably the biggest since the Emancipation Proclamation—step toward race equality in the U.S. If...

    • 15. BARACK OBAMA’S (IM)PERFECT UNION An Analysis of the Strategic Successes and Failures in His Speech on Race
      (pp. 311-328)
      EBONY UTLEY and AMY L. HEYSE

      IN MARCH 2008, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA WAS ENgulfed in political controversy. Video recordings of his pastor and spiritual advisor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., were broadcast on every news channel and widely circulated on the Internet. The recordings featured snippets from Wright’s most provocative sermons. One of those sermons, originally titled “Confusing God and the Government,” delivered on April 13, 2003, was retitled “God Damn America” on YouTube. Wright preached that the United States government enacted genocide against Native Americans and African Americans, helped imprison Nelson Mandela, and manipulated God’s word and will to sanction slavery and segregation. Wright...

  11. EPILOGUE Obama, Race, and the 2012 Presidential Election
    (pp. 329-338)
    PAUL SPICKARD

    IN THE WAKE OF THE 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, PAUL WEST WROTE in theLos Angeles Timesthat “even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over” (West 2012). Well, maybe not so much.

    It is true that President Obama was elected to a second term, and in no small part because he possesses a remarkable set of racial skills. He grew up in a polyglot international world. He was born to a White...

  12. REFERENCES
    (pp. 339-384)
  13. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 385-390)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 391-422)