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The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 16, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Randall Kennedy

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

"Provocative . . . Engaging and informative."
—The New York Times

"Kennedy's commitment to racial justice is plain . . . He frequently throws the cold water of common sense upon issues that are too often cloaked in glib histrionics."
—The New Republic

Race, Crime, and the Law
"Admirable, courageous, and meticulously fair and honest."
—The New York Times Book Review

"[Kennedy] is doing the smartest work in the area of race."
—National Law Journal

Interracial Intimacies
"As definitive as it is defiant . . . One of the most important books on race in recent memory."
—The Columbus Dispatch

"We urgently need Kennedy, his courage and convictions . . . For some time [he] has been a member of that small coterie of our most lucid big thinkers about race."
—The Washington Post

About the Author

Randall Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale. He attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and is a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He is the author of Race, Crime, and the Law, a winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption; Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word; and Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal. He lives in Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; Uncorrected Pre-Release edition edition (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030737789X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307377890
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,277,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By phyllis on August 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I could not put this book down. The subject is timely and so pertinent.
Mr. Kennedy has made it all read like a novel.
The footnotes and the end notes are full of fascinating facts, so make sure not to skip those.
Kennedy has written an interesting, entertaining and terribly informative book.
This should be a must-read for anyone interested in politics today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Franklin the Mouse on January 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As usual, Mr. Kennedy has written a levelheaded book that looks at the effects of the Obama Presidency on race relations. Readers who are of a conservative, jaded bend will likely view his assessment as some kind of liberal rant. Please do not be influenced by such shallow-minded reviews. I am a happily married, 51-year-old, Caucasian dad (and white wife) with two adopted boys (ages 13 and 11) who are African-American. All five of Mr. Kennedy's books have been very informative, well-reasoned works. The author gives a very accurate assessment of the emotions and political conflicts arising from the 2008 campaign and the first two years of President Obama's term. Not only does he call to task the President on various issues, he also empathizes with our first black Chief Executive having to walk a very fine line for political survival and effectiveness. Mr. Kennedy also gives credit where credit is due (such as Senator McCain's unwillingness to play the race card during the campaign as well as his wonderful concession speech) and lambasts liberal and conservative critics who apparently live in a world where the sky is orange and they only have one toe in reality. The author also covers such issues as the Reverend Wright imbroglio, accusations of playing the race card, the sham carnival show known as the Supreme Court Confirmation hearings, the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest with the silly "Beer Summit," and an especially poignant, small section (pages 182-185, hardcover edition) about Mr. Kennedy's dad attitudes about patriotism. This is great stuff and truly enlightening. A wonderful educational tool.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nathan B on March 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a white, conservative, thirty-something male I find much to disagree with in Mr Kennedy's book, "The Persistence of the Color Line." After all, Mr Kennedy does "demand that he [President Obama] governs as progressively [i.e. in keeping with Democratic ideology] as circumstances will allow." (pg 274) In many ways I found the book to be judgmental - often referring to conservative views as "indecent," (p 23) or immoral - the book was also not organized particularly well, and the central thesis often seemed hard to elucidate.

Yet I give this book five stars. Why? Because we need people like Mr. Kennedy - who for all his talk about race in this book never made me feel like he was being unfair. His repeated attempts to be fair minded earned him my respect. I never found myself doubting the veracity of what he said, only disagreeing with his analysis in places. And in many places I found myself sympathetic to his viewpoint as a consequence.

Indeed, on the subject of race it can be hard not to feel defensive. I find myself editing the foregoing sentence, "earned him my respect," to "earned him my respect as an author." I changed my mind. After all, I would not have to clarify that in any other circumstance. Yet it is that kind of thing that has dogged President Obama's candidacy and occupancy of the White House. Nearly everything said is analyzed in the context of race. And it is this issue that seems to be the uniting theme of this excellent work.

The first chapter discusses the inaugural celebration and spends some time discussing black electoral politics up until Obama's candidacy.*

The second and third chapters discuss how Obama has gained the vote of the African American vote and the White vote.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By dfrankli on August 19, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
The Persistence of the Color Line, Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency is a book that puts into perspective the growth and potential growth of African American peoples in this country. We have a lot to contribute,as evidenced by the performance of President Obama in a sea of huge problems not of his own making that other Presidents did not have to deal with, however some are still not willing to accept that it is people and their ability to perform, and not race that is the most important thing. The civil war is over, and the plantation days have ended, but the mentality of some is still there in subtle ways. A must read for those who want to keep up with the changing times.
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Format: Hardcover
This is my second book to read by Randall Kennedy, however, it is hands down my favorite. THE PERSISTENCE OF THE COLOR LINE says so much about not what got President Barack Obama elected but why he was elected.

There is a vetting of the President that takes place in this book that we didn't see as much of while he was running for President in 2008, mainly because of the sensitivities of criticizing a man of color who was on the cusp of becoming the possible Leader of the Free World. The Clintons weren't even immune of being criticized and labeled as race-baiters, even by some on the Left during the campaign. Saying something about his pastor or his background automatically caused some to be seen as racists.

What Kennedy demonstrates in this book, however, is that the hands-off approach that kept many from talking against Obama aided him in not just getting elected but the way he is covered even today. Who wants to be seen as talking about the first black president? Who wants to be the one that the race card is used against? Well, if you fast-forward to 2011 we see that even some of the blacks who helped the President get elected are wondering aloud who he is, what he wants to do and most importantly what is he doing for them.

I think that is one of the great ironies of the Obama Presidency. It is hard to refute the fact that many minorities supported and voted for him simply because of what he looked like. The challenge as outlined by Kennedy is what we can learn not so much from Obama but his time as President and what should be considered moving forward.

Looking at the timing of this release, I would have to say that if the world was looking for a book to use as a conversation piece about the President and where the United States is right now with its discussion of race and racial politics, that Kennedy has given us all we need. It's a remarkable book during a remarkable time in history.
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