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The Obama Phenomenon

The Obama Phenomenon: Toward a Multiracial Democracy

Martin Kilson
Hanes Walton
Josephine A.V. Allen
Sherman C. Puckett
Donald R. Deskins
Julianne Malveaux
Dianne M. Pinderhughes
Herb Boyd
Scharn Robinson
Alice Walker
Maulana Karenga
John L. Jackson
Dwight N. Hopkins
Ronald Williams
Shaun Ossei-Owusu
Ula Y. Taylor
Robin D. G. Kelley
Clarence Lusane
Cheryl I. Harris
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    The Obama Phenomenon
    Book Description:

    Barack Obama's campaign and electoral victory demonstrated the dynamic nature of American democracy. Beginning as a special issue of The Black Scholar, this probing collection illustrates the impact of "the Obama phenomenon" on the future of U.S. race relations through readings on Barack Obama's campaign as well as the idealism and pragmatism of the Obama administration. Some of the foremost scholars of African American politics and culture from an array of disciplines--including political science, theology, economics, history, journalism, sociology, cultural studies, and law--offer critical analyses of topics as diverse as Obama and the media, Obamas connection with the hip hop community, the public's perception of first lady Michelle Obama, voter behavior, and the history of racial issues in presidential campaigns since the 1960s._x000B__x000B_Contributors are Josephine A. V. Allen, Robert L. Allen, Herb Boyd, Donald R. Deskins Jr., Cheryl I. Harris, Charles P. Henry, Dwight N. Hopkins, John L. Jackson, Maulana Karenga, Robin D. G. Kelley, Martin Kilson, Clarence Lusane, Julianne Malveaux, Shaun Ossei-Owusu, Dianne M. Pinderhughes, Sherman C. Puckett, Scharn Robinson, Ula Y. Taylor, Alice Walker, Hanes Walton Jr., and Ronald Williams II.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09348-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Times are out of joint. We have an African American president yet representatives call him a liar publicly and the Republicans hold an alternate State of the Union in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Philadelphia, Mississippi, has a Black mayor yet Blacks and Whites find it hard to find a justice of the peace that will marry them in Louisiana, which has an East Indian American as governor. Chris Matthews forgets the president is Black but Harry Reid is able to distinguish him from darker, less-well-spoken African Americans. It seems some have transcended race but others have not.



    • ONE Toward a Multiracial Democracy: The Jackson and Obama Contributions
      (pp. 15-33)

      What young Black lawyer from Chicago with a degree from a prestigious law school and a mixed legislative record of reform and mainstream party voting in the Illinois legislature went on to win a historic general election after beating the Democratic Party favorite in the primary? The victor was known for his verbal eloquence and putting “people together who were really enemies of each other.”² Some said he was a celebrity more than a local leader. No, the answer is not Barack Obama—it’s Harold Washington.

      In many ways Barack Obama’s election can be traced to Harold Washington’s racially charged...

    • TWO Analysis of Black American Voters in Barack Obama’s Victory
      (pp. 34-59)

      By midnight on Election Day, November 4, 2008, it was clear that American political life had entered a historically new era with the election victory of the Barack Obama–Joe Biden Democratic ticket over the John McCain–Sarah Palin Republican ticket. Winning 53 percent of the popular vote and 365 votes in the Electoral College, the Obama-Biden ticket’s victory was especially unique because it represented the election of the first ever African American president of the United States of America. With this great historic event, the year 2009 witnessed three momentous national celebratory occasions. One occasion was the inauguration of...

    • THREE Dead Certain: The Election of Barack Obama and Its Implications for Racial Politics
      (pp. 60-81)

      Euphoric! Exciting! Exhilarating! At exactly 11:00 p.m. EST on November 4, 2008, Fox News Channel, in the same breath, called California for Senator Barack Obama and then declared him to be the forty-fourth President of the United States of America. In Springfield, Illinois, on a cold Saturday morning, February 10, 2007, in nearly every circle of thought in most racial and ethnic minority enclaves of America, to say nothing of the majority enclaves in this country, it was thought to be either an impossibility and/or a near improbability when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party’s nomination at the...

    • FOUR What Trumped? Race, Class, Gender, Generation, the Economy, and the 2008 Elections
      (pp. 82-91)

      How did Barack Hussein Obama earn the presidency of the United States of America? A decade ago, he was a little-known state senator from Illinois. By his own admission, he was frustrated by state politics and anxious for the “upgrade” of national office when he first challenged Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and then took on the uphill battle of the 2004 Senate race. Buoyed by an exceptionally well-reviewed speech at the Democratic convention, by the re-release of his biography (Dreams from My Father), and by a well-written policy tome (The Audacity of Hope), Barack Obama was pivoted into the public...

    • FIVE Race, the Presidency, and Obama’s First Year
      (pp. 92-110)

      This chapter examines the presidential candidacy and early presidency of Barack Obama during 2008 and 2009. Race has been of profound importance in shaping the American polity from the colonial era into the twenty-first century. The legal framework of racial slavery created boundaries that challenged African Americans at every level: freedom, citizenship, political participation, and electoral leadership. Research that explored race in American politics found considerable evidence of varying patterns of political discrimination or variation based on race in the American South,¹ linked fate among African Americans,² considerable variation by race in the development and evolution of social policy in...

    • SIX Under Press-ure: Overcoming the Media and Its Mavens?
      (pp. 111-125)

      Before Barack Hussein Obama became the forty-fourth President of the United States, his campaign was viewed in three major ways by the media: There were those who cheered him along; those uncertain what to make of him but who retained a tame, mainstream, “wait and see” perspective; and those whose views ranged from “critically supportive” to firmly opposed. Since his election, there has been little change in these assessments, though at this time there is a clearer delineation between those for and against Obama in the mainstream media as they gather a better understanding of his pragmatic tendencies on policy...

    • SEVEN Opportunity Costs: The Impact of the 2008 Campaign on the Legacy of William Jefferson Clinton
      (pp. 126-140)

      He entered office in no small part because of them.¹ He made them many campaign promises in order to get elected and to gain re-election. By the time his tenure as president was over, some of those promises had been broken. However, they still respected and admired him. After all, William Jefferson Clinton seemed to understand the needs and wants of the African American community as no president had before him. This was a welcome change for African Americans after seemingly tone-deaf Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush left office. At the very least, Clinton knew how to speak...


    • EIGHT Lest We Forget: An open letter to my sisters who are brave
      (pp. 143-147)

      I have come home from a long stay in Mexico to find—because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama/Clinton race for the Democratic nomination—a new country existing alongside the old. On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are, and take a glance, as well, into the future. It is a space with which I am familiar.

      When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white...

    • NINE The Ambivalent Embrace of Barack Obama: The Ethical Significance and Social Apprehension of Blackness
      (pp. 148-164)

      The election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of the United States of America offers a complex portrait of both possibility and paradox, both continuity and change within the context of a society deeply embedded in a history of racial categorization, racialization, and racism, as well as multifront struggles to alter this. It was a generally conceded assessment that we were on the threshold of a new historical opening, marked first by the occupation of the office of president and the White House by a progressive African American and by the imagining of a vision of a new way...

    • TEN Obama, Black Religion, and the Reverend Wright Controversy
      (pp. 165-180)

      Religion and race invariably transform public discourse from civil, intellectual dialogue to irrational rancor. Combine them with the volatility of politics and one has an explosive mixture. Privately contained, the cultural exposition of these phenomena may create unity if not uniformity, cohesiveness if not consistency. Publicly expressed, they become the unfortunate foci of division, derision, and deep levels of misunderstandings. In every pivotal era of African American history, religion, race, and politics, in the private sphere, have combined to fashion a collective identity around which black people have come to feel empowered to change their plight and to make their...

    • ELEVEN Race, Religion, and the Race for the White House
      (pp. 181-199)

      One of the fascinating developments in the 2008 presidential election has been the insertion of black religion and black theology into the discourse. For instance, on February 10, 2007, Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the White House. Shortly after, theNew York Timespublished an article that suggested that Obama was beginning to distance himself from his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and that Obama might be linked to a radical form of black Christianity. Occasionally throughout 2007, some corporate media attempted to link Rev. Wright with Minister Louis Farrakhan. Because Rev. Wright was Obama’s pastor, then,...

    • TWELVE The New Negro in African American Politics: Barack Obama and the Politics of Racial Representation
      (pp. 200-217)

      Barack Obama’s success in American politics presents an unparalleled opportunity to reconsider the salience of race and the politics of racial representation. Obama’s victorious bid for the U.S. Senate in 2004—becoming only the fourth African American elected to upper house in American history—and, of course, his unprecedented and arguably surprising victory in his bid for President of the United States underscore the changing dynamics of race in American politics. It is important to recount that Obama, an African American, succeeded at defeating a sea of white candidates for his party’s nomination, including Hillary Clinton, who was understood as...

    • THIRTEEN Barack Obama’s Anomalous Relationship with the Hip-Hop Community
      (pp. 218-235)

      Interlocutors in different theoretical discussions have pointed to the election and presidency of Barack Obama as a signal to a changing racial, cultural, and political milieu in the United States. More than any other election, the 2008 election entailed a pronounced involvement from the hip-hop community. By hip-hop community I place a focus particularly on hip-hop music artists and their fans—recognizing that although hip-hop possesses a broad cultural landscape (dejaying, breakdancing, graffiti, fashion, literature, etc.), its musical/lyrical manifestations are most salient culturally, and although hip-hop is a global culture that exists outside the boundaries of the United States, Americans...

    • FOURTEEN Too Black and Too Strong: First Lady Michelle Obama
      (pp. 236-250)

      Two days before the historical election of Senator Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States of America,New York Timesjournalist Mark Leibovich interviewed undecided voters who were still wrestling with the question, “Who are you voting for?”¹ The article pushed beyond the typical back and forth between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, highlighting how socially liberal Republicans had concerns about Senator John McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, and how supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed to “support anyone not named Barack Obama” after he defeated her in the primaries. The article shifts when Brooklyn native...


    • FIFTEEN President Obama: Freedom Democrat or Neoliberal?
      (pp. 253-261)

      As the world savored Barack Obama’s ascent to the highest post in the United States, the same political pundits who impatiently insisted that we transcend race by not talking about it made racetheissue du jour. We’ve all heard the jubilant claims that Obama’s victory marks the final nail in the coffin of racism.USA Todayasked if we still need a Voting Rights Act “now that a black man has won the presidency,” and columnist Jim Wooten of theAtlanta Journal-Constitutionargued that Obama’s victory proved that “the political system that discriminated and the people who designed it...

    • SIXTEEN Multicultural Hegemony: Globalization and the Obama Doctrine
      (pp. 262-276)

      President Barack Obama, during his campaign for the presidency, ignited a movement of progressive activism that has the potential to reshape U.S. and global politics in a manner unseen in generations. One critical area of politics that requires urgent attention is the nature and status of U.S. foreign policy and the image and legitimacy of the United States around the world.

      The George W. Bush administration left the United States in perhaps its most unfavorable position globally in the nation’s history. A 2004 Pew Research Center report found that mistrust of the United States in Europe and elsewhere was the...

    • SEVENTEEN An Affirmative Act? Barack Obama and the Past, Present, and Future of Race-Conscious Remedies
      (pp. 277-310)

      On the night of the election news commentators effused over the historic nature of the Obama win: Despite the racial odds, a black man had been elected President of the United States. Moments later, in an interview with the same commentators, Obama’s campaign director and close advisor David Axelrod sincerely asserted that throughout the two years of the campaign, race had never been discussed, except in response to media-stoked controversy.¹ Thus, at the same moment Obama was marked by race and declared to be (at least ostensibly) racially transcendent.

      In part this racial bipolarity was produced by the conflict between...

    • EPILOGUE: The Legacy of the Obama Era: A New Electoral Majority?
      (pp. 311-314)

      Whether Barack Obama is regarded primarily as the first black president of the United States of America or more prosaically as an American president who happens to be black, it remains the case that he is first of all the American president at the moment. And, as with the American presidents before him, African Americans, despite being critical to his election, will not get specific attention to issues of discrimination and equity unless they unite in a social movement that compels the president and Congress to take up these issues. Whether Obama is avoiding “race” issues from a desire not...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 315-318)
  9. Index
    (pp. 319-327)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 328-332)