on January 14, 2012
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.
on March 15, 2012
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. Many African Americans did not at first support his candidacy due either to the fact that he never courted the black leadership in the traditional way or out of a desire to keep him from being assassinated literally or figuratively. (I remember praying that he would not be assassinated as well - there are always some crazies out there.) Some opposed him ideologically. In the end, about 98% of blacks voted for him, even prominent conservatives like Colin Powell.
To convince whites, says Kennedy, he had to go out of his way to make sure to avoid racial topics, support for affirmative action, and made sure to never seem bitter over race issues. As noted later in the book Obama obtained 43% of the white vote (p 251), not much different from various other democratic candidates such as Clinton, Kerry, or Gore. He discusses Obama's famous speech on race, which I loved, but which Kennedy feels rather lukewarm about. My mother spent much of her summers in a tent since they couldn't afford to live indoors. I suffer from a crippling illness which leaves me in pain everyday. President Obama pointed out that people everywhere have a hard time, not just non-whites. He recognized, as few liberals do, how painful it is to many to be accused of racism with casual indifference.
I think Kennedy here and in other parts of the book fails to give sufficient credence to how important this process was of convincing white Americans that if elected Obama would represent them as well. Blacks after all have their own black caucus, the NAACP, etc., which see the world as inherently unfair towards blacks (rightly or wrongly), and prefer to spend their time on black issues. Given the history of American race relations and the awful treatment of blacks at various times and places, it is not entirely unexpected for some blacks (like the author's father) to hate whites, however unfair it may or may not be, but nor is it unreasonable for whites to desire a president who will not promote policies to their detriment, as for instance, affirmative action inevitably does - and to his credit, Kennedy acknowledges this though he believes the cost is worth it.
Chapter Four deals with the dreaded Race Card. Kennedy goes through each candidate's campaign in 2008, focusing on Hillary Clinton, McCain, and Obama's campaigns. His surprising conclusion is that there was very little race baiting - he gives a lot of credit to McCain, though many readers will dislike this - but that many commentators and pundits during the election cycle engaged in irresponsible racially charged accusations. I agree with Kennedy's statement that we all need to do a better job in giving people the benefit of the doubt.
The last four chapters each deal with these themes in different ways - evaluating the Jeremiah Wright controversy, discussing the Sotomayor nomination process, and discussing how Obama talks about race (i.e. doesn't talk about if he can help it).
Conservative frustration with race is that it often seems to be used as a weapon (i.e. the race card) rather than a genuine issue. Just a few weeks ago a headline writer was fired for writing the headline "A Chink in the Armor" when referring to the Asian NBA player Jeremy Lin. He had used this headline many times before and clearly did not intend to cause offense. In fact, his color-blindness seems to have worked against him - "chink" never even registered for him as a term that had anything to do with Asians. Yet he lost his job. The "Sherrod debacle" as Kennedy calls it (p 238) is a similar example, but of a black woman unfairly accused.
This kind of thing has to stop. It has been forty years since the majority of Americans embraced the civil rights movement, and those who participated in that movement were not aged 0. Serious racism last found in the mid twentieth century is rare in most parts of the country as Kennedy says in the book. In my elementary school twenty+ years ago the most popular kid in the school was black. Accusations about racism now deal with "unconscious racism" since there are few real examples of racism. At some point we need to stop tearing ourselves apart over racism. The real legacy of racism is that black households have not accumulated the wealth and assets that white families have often accumulated and that can be passed on in various ways (e.g. sending kids to college, having spare time to help with homework, etc.). Perhaps if irresponsible accusations of racism weren't so rampant we could actually work together to end this sad legacy. And perhaps this book can help further this goal.
Note -- Few people have commented on the content of this book despite multiple reviews because race is a very touchy subject. As Kennedy says, we need to all just calm down and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Please be patient with me.
* = yes, I do here remove his title for brevity - as does Mr Kennedy in three out of eight chapter titles and repeatedly in the text. Here again, we see a heightened racial awareness in interpreting words as having depreciatory motives instead of more normal motives such as brevity. We often refer to "Bush" or "Clinton" without remark.
on August 19, 2011
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.
on June 11, 2013
It's time for President Obama to become a leader. (p 7)
He became president by overcoming the racism of democrats, running roughshod over the objections of black conservatives to his disastrous policies, and co-opting his far-left black critics. His approval numbers are riding high on the wave of neediness of black America (p 104-105)
This book details the highly inaccurate statements and racial accusations made by Obama's defenders during the 2008 primary campaign and general election (esp. p 91-95) and points out that dissent, too, can be patriotic (p. 191)
This book goes off track by making excuses for black racism while holding white racism to a different standard. Kennedy does so explicitly, in the chapter on Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court and elsewhere (p. 183-185, 217-220)
I read the book on the recommendation of someone who told me Randall Kennedy considers the persepctives of Black Conservatives in opposing President Obama. The book was lacking on this count, mentioning only Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, and Juan Williams as Black conservatives. Black Christians who abhor President Obama's abortion position receive no hearing. Black entrepreneurs who suffer under President Obama's war on jobs and economic calamities are never mentioned. But Kennedy also overlooks legitimate criticisms from the black left. Black city dwellers who see only cronyism in the stimulus spending, green initiatives, and union greed are ignored. Black teachers who opose the president's education policies are invisible. Black activists who deplore the president's lack of action on racial justice are nowhere to be found.
This book takes a very narrow view of the reality of race in America, even post-racial America.
I'm going back to my previous policy of skipping books about the Obama presidency. Too disheartening.
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.