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Not Even Past

Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 178
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  • Book Info
    Not Even Past
    Book Description:

    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." InNot 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? InNot 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3419-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    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...

  4. I “This Is My Story”: Obama, Civil Rights, and Memory
    (pp. 11-55)

    So goes a poem that circulated widely during the last weeks of the 2008 presidential election.¹ This short piece of verse encapsulates the relationship of Barack Obama to collective memories of the civil rights movement. It is a story of debt: Obama owes his success to the past generation of civil rights protesters. It is a story of redemption: Obama’s political career realizes their dream that skin color be no longer a bar to ambition. And it is a story of hope and promise: Obama’s victory will open up extraordinary opportunities to the next generation. The poem offers an unself-conscious...

  5. II Obama and the Truly Disadvantaged: The Politics of Race and Class
    (pp. 56-91)

    In 1981, when Barack Obama, barely twenty, arrived in New York City, urban America had bottomed out. The civil rights marches of the 1950s and 1960s were a distant memory, and, despite the movement’s hard-won victories, racial inequality seemed more entrenched than ever, especially in inner cities. The optimism that had infused the black freedom struggle gave way to a deep-seated pessimism about the intractability of urban poverty. Social scientists and journalists used a neologism—the “underclass”—to describe blacks and Latinos living beneath the poverty line in cities like New York, entrapped in what seemed to be a permanent...

  6. III “A More Perfect Union”? The Burden of Race in Obama’s America
    (pp. 92-138)

    On November 4, 2008, about two hundred thousand people gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park. The faces in the crowd—white, black, Latino, and Asian—all waving little American flags—embodied Barack Obama’s vision of an interracial America, one that he had so eloquently presented just eight months earlier in Philadelphia, in the defining speech of his political career. There Obama offered Americans a way past the nation’s deepest divisions—calling for a “more perfect union” to overcome the nation’s deepest-rooted divisions through a shared sense of purpose.¹

    Smaller celebrations erupted spontaneously in many Chicago neighborhoods. In Puerto Rican Humboldt Park...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 139-140)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 141-165)