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Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal [Kindle Edition]

Randall Kennedy
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $13.95
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In this incisive and unflinching study, Randall Kennedy, author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, tackles another stigma of America's racial discourse: “selling out.” He explains the origins of the concept and shows how fear of this label has haunted prominent members of the black community—including, most recently, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Barack Obama. Sellout also contains a rigorously fair case study of America's quintessential racial “sellout”—Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In the book's final section, Kennedy recounts how he himself has dealt with accusations of being a sellout after meeting fierce criticism at Harvard upon the publication of his book, Nigger.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Accusations of selling out—of betraying or neglecting the interests of blacks to curry favor with whites—are among the most damaging that African-Americans level at each other, according to Harvard law professor Kennedy. Called a sellout himself after his book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word appeared, Kennedy here explores the charge's potency. He recounts the centuries-long history of sellout rhetoric—sometimes rooted in real betrayals by blacks who echoed white supremacist ideology or informed on slave rebellions or civil rights organizations—and examines its role both in uniting the black community against racism and in stifling debate within the community. A long chapter analyzes conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom Kennedy acquits of sellout charges, and a fascinating discussion of racial categories and White Negroes—blacks who pass as white—shows how murky the concept of racial loyalty is. Kennedy finds sellout rhetoric to be overblown—often aimed at blacks guilty only of success—but won't entirely repudiate it. African-Americans should be subject to having citizenship in Black America revoked if they repudiate even a minimal communal allegiance (although Kennedy is hard-pressed to think of plausible instances where this might apply). His is a lively, thoughtful, provocative commentary on a centerpiece of black identity politics. (Jan. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Sellout is brisk and enjoyable, no small feat given the density of its ideas. . . . Worth reading for the light it shines on many subtleties of black history.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review“Thought-provoking. . . . [Kennedy offers] illuminating evidence that, despite great marks of progress, race's stranglehold on the nation's collective conscious remains as strong as ever.” —The Washington Post“Fresh. . . . Elegant and open-minded. . . . Sellout does a great deal to complicate the politics of racial betrayal.” —“A cool, clean case against the use of a backwards epithet that discourages something black America can hardly do without-coherent and original thought.” —The New York Sun

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 249 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0012E3JB0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,132,662 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even-Handed Analysis of an Incendiary Idea March 3, 2008
Comprehensive and illuminating survey about the historical and contemporary meanings of "selling out" in the black community. Kennedy's analysis is wide-ranging and accessible, giving the reader a number of examples of black sellouts from slave rebellion informers to Clarence Thomas.

The book's notable virtue is that it approaches its topic judiciously, taking claims of selling out seriously and thinking philosophically about their meaning for community-formation. Kennedy is also even-handed when approaching especially controversial figures like Thomas. His analysis of Thomas's jurisprudence and politics is the most incisive yet sensitive one I've encountered recently -- appropriately critical of the Justice's flaws in legal thinking yet not entirely dismissive of Thomas's right to hold conservative views WITHOUT being deemed a sellout to the black community.

In sum, Kennedy's book is one of the more thoughtful ones on contemporary race relations I've read. His measured tone is inviting, and the abundance and diversity of his archival sources (from law, literature, social and cultural history) make reading *Sellout* endlessly fascinating. I strongly recommend this book.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, interesting and thought-provoking January 18, 2008
Kennedy has, once again, addressed the issues facing African-Americans. While reading this book, one can't help but wonder to whom blacks should be true - black America? - their country? - their family? - themselves? - do they have to be loyal to their own race?
It is especially interesting to read Kennedy's views regarding just what it is that makes someone black (i.e., the one drop theory). And, if one is called a sellout, does that mean he/she is a sellout? The easy answer is no but it isn't that simple.
This is a fascinating read - a real page-turner.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars piqued interest...begs more questions February 20, 2008
By Major W
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was surprised to see a full-page opinion editorial in a large Atlanta, Ga newspaper regarding law professor Randall Kennedy's book, "Sellout". The general idea of the book suggests that there is an unspoken rule within the African-American community to maintain the "negro" character at all times or risk being labeled a traitor (sellout). Of course, I bought the book so I could get a better understanding of the other issues. After reading about ¾ of the book, I came away with a few points to remember and perhaps discuss with some of my friends.

First, there seems to be an implication that there are self-appointed "super delegates" who set the rules for claiming African-American identity. For those who set aside or fail to accept the "blackness" label, they are ridiculed, ousted, or undermined at every opportunity. Second, obvious black role models are scrutinized to the point of unacceptability regardless of their real success. Third, is it not ironic that lawyers, journalists, and educators dominate the discussion about behavior when this is an area more suitable for psychologists and scientists? Lastly, the book cites some everyday situations during the slavery period. A critical look at some behavior patterns of today may reveal a connection to that time. Some would even argue that the replication is required to perpetuate "victimhood."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Calm, well-reasoned analysis May 25, 2008
I've never read anything by Professor Kennedy before, which was my loss. Sellout is a terrific book. Calmly and rationally, Kennedy tries to explain how one determines whether a person, e.g. Clarence Thomas, is disloyal to his race. His chapter on Thomas was the best of the book. While no fan of Thomas' jurisprudence, Kennedy concludes that many of the left-wing attacks on him are unfair. Kennedy himself recounts the vicious attacks made on him by racial demagogues for dissenting from racial orthodoxy. There's an especially funny story where this woman hysterically accuses him of being married to a white woman. (Kennedy had written a book defending interracial marriage). A black man next to her says no, Professor Kennedy's wife is black. The hysterical woman said no way. Finally, the black man says "Look, my daughter is his wife." End of argument, I would say.

One small complaint: I did not agree with him on the subject of affirmative action. Notwithstanding this, I highly recommend Sellout, for liberals and conservatives alike.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Once again, Mr. Kennedy has been willing to examine a racial topic in which he'll probably be vilified by some for even having the "audacity" to broach the subject. Staying true to form, the author avoids angry or sarcastic polemics in an effort to present a thoughtful and informative book. Pressures to conform to a specific mindset are inherent in any social group. Insecure individuals will invariably gravitate to superficiality and demonizing people that disagree with them (Race, religion, political ideology, whatever.) The author's chapter on the dynamics revolving around the controversial Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, was especially illuminating. As a middle-aged Caucasian male parenting two young African-American boys, I have found all four of Mr. Kennedy's works to be indispensable. You'll be a better person for reading this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Left Me Wanting More June 27, 2011
Randall Kennedy is one of the country's more interesting thinkers. This book is very thought provoking even though it is a quick read. I actually found myself it went a bit longer so Kennedy could further address the questions he poses in these pages.
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