Race and the Obama Phenomenon: The Vision of a More Perfect Multiracial Union

Posted in Anthologies, Barack Obama, Books, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2014-07-25 04:22Z by Steven

Race and the Obama Phenomenon: The Vision of a More Perfect Multiracial Union

University Press of Mississippi
432 pages
6 X 9 inches
3 B&W photographs
Hardcover ISBN: 9781628460216

Edited by:

G. Reginald Daniel, Professor of Sociology
University of California, Santa Barbara

Hettie V. Williams, Lecturer of African American History
Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey

Essays that explore how the first black president connects to the past and reimagines national racial and political horizons

The concept of a more perfect union remains a constant theme in the political rhetoric of Barack Obama. From his now historic race speech to his second victory speech delivered on November 7, 2012, that striving is evident. “Tonight, more than two hundred years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward,” stated the forty-fourth president of the United States upon securing a second term in office after a hard fought political contest. Obama borrows this rhetoric from the founding documents of the United States set forth in the U.S. Constitution and in Abraham Lincoln’sGettysburg Address.”

How naive or realistic is Obama’s vision of a more perfect American union that brings together people across racial, class, and political lines? How can this vision of a more inclusive America be realized in a society that remains racist at its core? These essays seek answers to these complicated questions by examining the 2008 and 2012 elections as well as the events of President Obama’s first term. Written by preeminent race scholars from multiple disciplines, the volume brings together competing perspectives on race, gender, and the historic significance of Obama’s election and reelection. The president heralded in his November, 2012, acceptance speech, “The idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like . . . . whether you’re black or white, Hispanic or Asian or Native American.” These essayists argue the truth of that statement and assess whether America has made any progress toward that vision.

Contributions by Lisa Anderson-Levy, Heidi Ardizzone, Karanja Keita Carroll, Greg Carter, Frank Rudy Cooper, Marhsa J. Tyson Darling, Tessa Ditonto, David Frank, Amy L. Heyse, David A. Hollinger, George Lipsitz, Mark McPhail, Tavia Nyong’o, David Roediger, Paul Spickard, Janet Mendoza Stickman, Paul Street, Ebony Utley, Ronald Waters


  • Preface / Hettie V. Williams and G. Reginald Daniel
  • Foreword: Race Will Survive the Obama Phenomenon / David Roediger
  • Introduction: Understanding Obama and Ourselves / George Lipsitz
  • Part I: Race, Obama, and Multiraciality
    • 1. Race and Multiraciality: From Barack Obama to Trayvon Martin / G. Reginald Daniel
    • 2. By Casta, Color Wheel, and Computer Graphics: Visual Representations of Racially Mixed People / Greg Carter
    • 3. Barack Obama: Embracing Multiplicity—Being a Catalyst for Change / Janet Mendoza Stickmon
    • 4. In Pursuit of Self: The Identity of an American President and Cosmopolitanism / Hettie V. Williams
  • Part II: Obama, Blackness, and the “Post-Racial Idea”
    • 5. Barack Hussein Obama, or, the Name of the Father / Tavia Nyong’o
    • 6. The End(s) of Difference? Towards an Understanding of the “Post” in Post-Racial / Lisa Anderson-Levy
    • 7. On the Impossibilities of a Post-Racist America in the Obama Era / Karanja Keita Carroll
    • 8. Obama, the Instability of Color Lines, and the Promise of a Postethnic Future / David A. Hollinger
  • Part III: Race, Gender, and the Obama Phenomenon
    • 9. From Chattel to First Lady: Black Women Moving from the Margins / Marsha J. Tyson Darling
    • 10. The “Outsider” and the Presidency: Mediated Representations of Race and Gender in the 2008 Presidential Primaries / Tessa Ditonto
    • 11. Obama’s “Unisex” Campaign: Critical Race Theory Meets Masculinities Studies / Frank Rudy Cooper
    • 12. “Everything His Father Was Not”: Fatherhood and Father Figures in Barack Obama’s First Term / Heidi Ardizzone
  • Part IV: Race, Politics, and the Obama Phenomenon
    • 13. Barack Obama’s Address to the 2004 Democratic Convention: Trauma, Compromise, Consilience and the (Im)Possibility of Racial Reconciliation / David Frank and Mark Lawrence McPhail
    • 14. Barack Obama and the Politics of Blackness / Ronald W. Walters
    • 15. Barack Obama’s White Appeal and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era / Paul Street
    • 16. Barack Obama’s (Im)Perfect Union: An Analysis of the Strategic Successes and Failures in His Speech on Race / Ebony Utley and Amy L. Heyse
  • Epilogue: Obama, Race, and the 2012 Presidential Election / Paul Spickard
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Judicial Erasure of Mixed-Race Discrimination

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-04-02 03:45Z by Steven

Judicial Erasure of Mixed-Race Discrimination

American University Law Review
Volume 59, Number 3
February 2010
pages 469-555

Nancy Leong, Associate Professor of Law
Sturm College of Law, Denver University

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • I. “What Are You?”: Cueing Perception of Racial Mixing
  • II. “A Mongrel Breed of Citizens”: Animus Against Multiracial People
    • A. Historical Origins
    • B. Contemporary Attitudes
  • III. “Discrete and Insular”: The Problem with Categories
    • A. Categorical Foundations
    • B. Judicial Treatment of Multiracial Plaintiffs
      • 1. Categorical reformulation of multiracial identification
      • 2. Limited acknowledgment of mixed-race discrimination
      • 3. Discrimination against interracial couples: related but distinct
    • C. Academic Omission
  • IV. “Invisible People”: The Erasure of Multiracial Discrimination
    • A. Causes of Unacknowledged Multiracial Discrimination
    • B. Consequences of Unacknowledged Multiracial Discrimination
      • 1. Damage to individual narratives of discrimination
      • 2. Inhospitality to claims of multiracial discrimination
      • 3. Instantiation of racial categories and associated stereotypes
  • V. “The Eye of the Beholder”: Reconciling Antidiscrimination Law and Multiracial Identification
  • Conclusion


The ideal of America as a racial and ethnic melting pot is a fundamental archetype in our national mythology. But discomfort with the idea of miscegenation and with the individuals born to parents of different races is equally fundamental to the American story. Indeed, one historian documents the punishment of Captain Daniel Elfrye for “too freely entertaining a mulatto” in 1632. Since then, racial mixing has engendered a continuously evolving social unease, troubling different groups for different reasons at different times. But the underlying inquietude has persisted. At times, this discomfort has manifested itself through legal mechanisms—for example, as a statutory scheme designed to police the boundaries of racial classification based on blood quantum. At other times, the discomfort has emerged through direct social interaction—for example, as violence directed at interracial couples and at individuals viewed as racially mixed.

Despite the historical and ongoing hostility to racial mixing, our legal system consistently fails to recognize racism directed at those seen as racially mixed. Race discrimination jurisprudence relies heavily on a familiar set of racial categories that David Hollinger has termed the “ethno-racial pentagon” of Asian, Latino/a, White, Black, and Native American. Science has largely demonstrated that the boundaries of these crude categories are arbitrary and that the categories themselves are social constructs rather than biological realities. Nonetheless, the categories constitute the paradigm through which we view race. And antidiscrimination jurisprudence continues to reflect and reify those categories in recognizing and remedying claims of racial discrimination.

This Article aims to expose the shortcomings of the prevailing crude racial categories as a means to implement the core provisions of antidiscrimination law—constitutional and statutory provisions such as the Equal Protection Clause and Title VII, and the jurisprudence that has developed around these provisions. Such provisions are designed to address racial discrimination by prohibiting inequitable treatment of individuals based on race and by punishing such inequitable treatment when it occurs. The provisions are not intended to protect specific racial categories. Rather, categories are simply the mechanism that the judiciary has adopted for implementing the goals of our antidiscrimination regime…

Read the entire article here.

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Disappearing ethnoracial distinctions in the United States in the twenty-first century?

Posted in Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Excerpts/Quotes, United States on 2013-03-28 13:34Z by Steven

Some commentators predict that ethnoracial distinctions in the United States will disappear in the twenty-first century.  Perhaps they are right, but there is ample cause to doubt it. And a glance at the history of Brazil, where physical mixing even of blacks and whites has magnificently failed to achieve social justice and to eliminate a color hierarchy, should chasten those who expect too much from mixture alone. Moreover, inequalities by descent group are not the only kind of inequalities. In an epoch of diminished economic opportunities and of apparent hardening of class lines, the diminution of racism may leave many members of historically disadvantaged ethnoracial groups in deeply unequal relation to whites simply by virtue of class position.  Even the end of racism at this point in history would not necessarily ensure a society of equals.

David A. Hollinger, “Amalgamation and Hypodescent: The Question of Ethnoracial Mixture in the History of the United States,” The American Historical Review, Volume 108, Number 5, December 2003. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/108.5/hollinger.html.

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Obama’s mixed ancestry generates some of the new uncertainty about blackness…

Posted in Barack Obama, Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-03-25 19:43Z by Steven

Obama’s mixed ancestry generates some of the new uncertainty about blackness. The white part of his genetic inheritance is not socially hidden, as it often is for “light-skinned blacks” who descend from black women sexually exploited by white slaveholders and other white males. Rather, Obama’s white ancestry is right there in the open, visible in the form of the white woman who, as a single mother, raised Obama after his black father left the family to return to his native Kenya. Press accounts of Obama’s life, as well as Obama’s own autobiographical writings, render Obama’s whiteness hard to miss. No public figure, not even Tiger Woods, has done as much as Obama to make Americans of every education level and social surrounding aware of color-mixing in general and that most of the “black” population of the United States, in particular, are partially white. The “one-drop rule” which denies that color is a two-way street is far from dead, but not since the era of its legal and social consolidation in the early 1920s has the ordinance of this rule been so subject to challenge.

David A. Hollinger, “Obama, The Instability of Color Lines, and the Promise of a Postethnic Future,” Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, Volume 31, Number 4 (2008): 1033-1037. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/cal.0.0282.

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Chats: Is Obama Black, Bi-racial, or Post-racial?

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-16 16:43Z by Steven

Chats: Is Obama Black, Bi-racial, or Post-racial?

Zócalo: Public Square

Five Experts Comment on the Politics of Race

Richard Thompson Ford, George E. Osborne Professor of Law
Stanford University

Michael C. Dawson, John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science; Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture
University of Chicago

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Professor of Sociology
Duke University

G. Reginald Daniel, Professor of Sociology
University of California, Santa Barbara

David A. Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History
University of California, Berkeley

As the son of a black Kenyan and a white American, President Obama is biracial. As a symbol of our times, he’s also called post-racial. On his census form, he classifies himself as black. Whatever he is, the categories obsess many Americans. So in advance of Randall Kennedy’s visit to Zócalo, we put the question to some leading academics: Is Obama black, bi-racial, or post-racial?…

He’s Black…

…He’s Black, Unfortunately…

…He’s White, Unfortunately…

…He’s Race-neutral, Unfortunately…

…He’s All and None—But Let’s Give It a Rest…

Read the entire article here.

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Obama, Blackness, and Postethnic America

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2012-02-06 00:45Z by Steven

Obama, Blackness, and Postethnic America

The Chronicle of Higher Education

David A. Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History
University of California, Berkeley

The Obama candidacy challenges our notions of identity politics

In their support for Hillary Rodham Clinton over Barack Obama, prominent black leaders have made it clear that black skin color itself is not as big a deal in American politics as it once was. The spectacle of John Lewis, Charles B. Rangel, and Andrew Young, among others, trying to persuade black Americans to vote for a white woman rather than the first black man with a real chance at the White House is a striking example of how the Obama campaign has become a postethnic phenomenon.

There are plenty of other signs as well. In a society long accustomed to a sharp black-white color line — and to relying on the rule of “one drop of black blood” to locate that line — commentators are discussing the choices of identity available to the mixed-race Obama. In a recent video on The New York Times Web site, Glenn C. Loury and John H. McWhorter, two prominent black intellectuals, casually reviewed Obama’s range of options. Yet it was not so long ago that the lightskinned Colin Powell declared matter-of-factly: “When you look like me, you are black.”…

…Obama’s mixed ancestry, however, is not what most generates the new uncertainty about blackness. Much more important is the fact that his black ancestry is immigrant rather than American-born. Before getting to that, however, let me clarify the postethnic flavor of the support for Clinton on the part of a substantial segment of the black political establishment…

Read the entire article here.

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He’s All and None—But Let’s Give It a Rest

Posted in Barack Obama, Excerpts/Quotes on 2011-09-14 03:10Z by Steven

I say let him [Barack Obama] do his best to run the country, like any President, and the rest of us can do him a favor by not constantly debating how black he is or isn’t. Enough already. He’s the President, for Christ’s sake. Let him do his job.

David A. Hollinger, “Chats: Is Obama Black, Bi-racial, or Post-racial?Zócalo Public Square, September 7, 2011. http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2011/09/07/is-obama-black-bi-racial-or-post-racial/read/chats/

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The Concept of Post-Racial: How Its Easy Dismissal Obscures Important Questions

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-09-13 04:33Z by Steven

The Concept of Post-Racial: How Its Easy Dismissal Obscures Important Questions

Volume 140, Issue 1 (Winter 2011 – Race in the Age of Obama, volume 1)
pages 174–182
DOI: 10.1162/DAED_a_00069

David A. Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History
University of California, Berkeley

Nearly all of today’s confident dismissals of the notion of a “post-racial” America address the simple question, “Are we beyond racism or not?” But most of the writers who have used the terms post-racial or post-ethnic sympathetically have explored other questions: What is the significance of the blurring of ethnoracial lines through cross-group marriage and reproduction? How should we interpret the relatively greater ability of immigrant blacks as compared to standard “African Americans” to overcome racist barriers? What do we make of increasing evidence that economic and educational conditions prior to immigration are more powerful determinants than “race” in affecting the destiny of population groups that have immigrated to the United States in recent decades? Rather than calling constant attention to the undoubted reality of racism, this essay asks scholars and anti-racist intellectuals more generally to think beyond “the problem of the color line” in order to focus on “the problem of solidarity.” The essay argues that the most easily answered questions are not those that most demand our attention.

…In this essay, I focus on two highly diversifying demographic trends that continue to inspire post-ethnic/post-racial writers, and that get short shrift in the competition to show just how bad racism still is. One is the extent and character of cross-group marriage, cohabitation, and reproduction. The second is the extent and character of recent immigration, especially of dark-skinned peoples…

Yet marriage statistics do not measure the full extent of the blurring of color lines. Sociologists Joel Perlmann and Mary C. Waters argue convincingly that these statistics underestimate the rates of ethnoracially mixed families, especially when black people are involved. “Low levels of black marriage and higher levels of black-white cohabitation than of black-white marriage,” they explain, “radically complicate the interpretation of intermarriage rates.”

One of the most distinctive and revealing yet rarely cited of the relevant studies calculates the percentage of families who had a mixed race marriage within their extended kinship network. Demographer Joshua Goldstein found that among U.S. Census-identified whites, by the year 2000 about 22 percent of white Americans had within their kinship network of ten marriages over three generations at least one white–non-white marriage; in that same year, nearly 50 percent of Census-identified black Americans had a black–non-black marriage in their kinship system. The percentage for Asian Americans with Asian–non-Asian families was 84 percent. These figures rose dramatically from earlier Censuses. In 1960, only about 2 percent of Census-identified whites and 9 percent of Census-identified blacks had in their kinship network a single marriage across the color line. As late as 1990, these figures were only 9 percent for Census-identified whites and 28 percent for Census identified blacks.14 Goldstein’s statistics suggest that acceptance of crossboundary marriage and reproduction, already registered in popular culture and opinion polls, will continue to increase. Our social psychologists tell us that hostility to mixed race couplings, like opposition to same-sex relationships, diminishes with intimate familiarity: when someone in your own family is in one of these traditionally stigmatized relationships, the stigma loses some of its power…

Read the entire article here.

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Of Rogues and Geldings

Posted in Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-06-20 05:33Z by Steven

Of Rogues and Geldings

The American Historical Review
AHR Forum: Amalgamation and the Historical Distinctiveness of the United States
Volume 108, Number 5 (December 2003)

Barbara J. Fields, Professor of History
Columbia University

David Hollinger has performed a valuable service by insisting on the historical uniqueness of the Afro-American experience, rejecting the false history, spurious logic, and expedient politics that collapse the situations of Afro-Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and indigenous Americans into a single category. He correctly insists that there is no counterpart for any other descent group to the one-drop or any-known-ancestry rule that, with minor exceptions, has historically identified Afro-Americans. He criticizes the bankrupt politics that has resulted from treating a multi-century history of enslavement and racist persecution as a simple variation on the immigrant experience. (He might have added that the immigrants-all version of American history, while labeling as immigrants Africans and Afro-Caribbeans who arrived as slaves as well as Indians and Mexicans whose country was taken over by outsiders, omits from its central narrative persons of African descent who truly were immigrants.) And when he gets too close to some of the very misconceptions that his own analysis ought to preclude, his good sense draws him back; as when, after speculating that greater recognition of mixed-ancestry offspring might result in greater acceptance of unambiguous African ancestry, he quickly acknowledges that greater isolation is just as likely. But the focus on “ethnoracial mixture” with the suggestion that historians should “see the history of the United States as, among other things, a story of amalgamation” is a different matter. It brings to mind an anecdote about an Irishman who, when asked the way to Ballynahinch, responds: “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here at all.”

…Whether called assimilation or amalgamation, the goal of blending in the discordant element operates on the rationale rather than on the problem. Framing questions in those terms guarantees that the answers will remain entangled in racist ideology. For example, a pair of sociologists investigating the degree of Afro-Caribbean immigrants’ assimilation into American society unquestioningly adopt as their measure of assimilation the rate of intermarriage between Afro-Caribbeans and native white Americans, rather than the much higher rate of intermarriage between Afro-Caribbeans and native Afro-Americans. The American ancestry of most native Afro-Americans goes back to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, whereas native white Americans are apt to be only first or second-generation Americans. Racism thus enters unannounced and unnoticed, to define eleventh or twelfth-generation black natives as less American than the children and grandchildren of white immigrants.

The race evasion compounded by the equation of race with identity explains why the siren song of multi-racialism attracts so many people. The point is best approached by way of a question: What is wrong with racism? One answer, whose historical pedigree includes such antecedents as David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Phillip Randolph, and Martin Luther King, Jr., holds that racism is wrong because it violates the basic rights of human being and citizen. Most decent people would assent to that view, if it were put to them in so many words. But the ever-widening campaign for recognition of a “multi-racial” category of Americans suggests a different answer. What is wrong with racism, in that view, is that it subjects persons of provably mixed ancestry to the same stigma and penalties as persons of unambiguously African ancestry. The anguish of the Jean Toomer or the Anatole Broyard rests, ultimately, on a thwarted hope to be excused, on grounds of mixed ancestry, from a fate deemed entirely appropriate for persons of unambiguous African ancestry.

Such a view, for all the aura of progressivism and righteousness that currently surrounds multi-racialism, is not a cure for racism but a particularly ugly manifestation of it. For Jean Toomer and Anatole Broyard, as for today’s apostles of multi-racialism, it is mixed ancestry, rather than human status, that makes racism wrong in their case. If there is pathos in their predicament (bathos seems closer to the mark), it arises from that fact that American racism, while making no room for fractional pariahs, vaguely supposes that, logically, it ought to. White Americans have conceded little space for those claiming immunity by reason of mixed ancestry, and generally regarding passing as a particularly insidious form of deceit. The Anatole Broyard who passes without detection is like a leper who neglects to strike his clapper dish and shout “Unclean!” before approaching an inhabited area. Still, a latent strain of sentimentality has sympathized with the predicament of the person of mixed African and European ancestry: the tragic mulatto of racist literature and pop culture. Consistency seems to require that injustice be visited on the pariahs according to their quantum of pariah blood. But the imitation-of-life, tragic-mulatto plot-line works and appears tragic only if the audience simultaneously accepts two conflicting views, both racist: on the one hand, that the penalty for African taint should be proportioned to its extent; on the other, that there can be no such thing as a fractional pariah: one either is or is not…

Read or purchase article here.

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Tiger Woods Is Not the End of History: or, Why Sex across the Color Line Won’t Save Us All

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-02 19:08Z by Steven

Tiger Woods Is Not the End of History: or, Why Sex across the Color Line Won’t Save Us All

The American Historical Review
Volume 108, Number 5
December 2003

Henry Yu, Professor of History
University of California, Los Angeles

In December 1996, several months after Tiger Woods left Stanford University to become a professional golfer, a Sports Illustrated story entitled “The Chosen One” quoted Tiger’s father, Earl, claiming that his son was “qualified through his ethnicity” to “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.” Tiger’s mother, Kultida, agreed, asserting that, because Tiger had “Thai, African, Chinese, American Indian and European blood,” he could “hold everyone together. He is the Universal Child.” The story’s author concluded that, “when we swallow Tiger Woods, the yellow-black-red-white man, we swallow … hope in the American experiment, in the pell-mell jumbling of genes. We swallow the belief that the face of the future is not necessarily a bitter or bewildered face; that it might even, one day, be something like Tiger Woods’ face.” Building on the interest in Tiger Woods, stories about mixed-race children and intermarriage proliferated. In January 2000, both Newsweek and Time opened the millennium with cover art speculating on the multi-racial faces of America’s future. 

The celebration of Tiger Woods’ mixed descent and his widespread popularity would seem to support David Hollinger‘s argument that the history of the United States has been a successful (albeit episodic) history of “amalgamation” overcoming group differences. With Woods as a prominent example, we might even be “crazy enough to believe” the idea that eventually “racism can be ended by wholesale intermarriage,” as Hollinger hints in his concluding paragraph.  However, I would argue that focusing on “intermarriage” and “race-mixing” should bring us to a different conclusion about U.S. history, and Woods might serve as a useful prism for separating out some other important aspects of the encounter of the United States with Asia and the Pacific…

Read the entire article here.

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