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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Barack Hussein Obama, or, The Name of the Father

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, United States on 2014-02-02 00:13Z by Steven

Barack Hussein Obama, or, The Name of the Father

The Scholar & Feminist Online
Barnard Center for Research on Women
Barnard College, New York, New York
Issue 7.2 (Spring 2009)

Tavia Nyong’o, Associate Professor of Performance Studies
New York University

To name, to give names that it will on occasion be forbidden to pronounce, such is the originary violence of language which consists in inscribing within a difference, in classifying, in suspending the vocative absolute. —Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology

But this is amazing, you know, the first black president. I know you’re bi-racial, but, the first black president. You’re proud to be able to say that: “The first black president.” That is, unless you screw up. And then it’s gonna be “What’s up with the half-white guy? Who voted for the mulatto?” —Wanda Sykes, White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, May 2009


While many commentators have held forth on the possibility that Barack Obama might be our first “post-racial” president, and while others have subjected this notion to a perhaps deserved derision, few have been as interested in contemplating another, equally likely prospect: Obama would be, and now is, our first post-colonial president. This silence bespeaks the degree to which “empire” remains a name that is still, on most public occasions, forbidden to pronounce. And isn’t the difficulty with registering Obama’s relationship to the colonial-modern obvious, in the way that is so often the case with things conspicuous, yet hard to hold in one’s vision, like the nose on one’s face? Barack Hussein Obama has a Swahili first name, a Luo surname, and that notorious middle name. He was born in Hawai’i and raised there and in Indonesia. Only the best political image-making team money could buy could have convinced a critical percentage of the voting public to actively disattend—or remain sufficiently ignorant of—the postcoloniality of his blackness long enough to select him as their surrogate to redeem the national crimes of slavery, segregation, and anti-black racism. But now that American presidentialism has finally secured to itself the black male body that has so long served as its abject, generative foil, how is this interstice between the national and non-national to be navigated?

The “irony” of the first black president being born of a white mother and a black Kenyan father has been pointed out so often that one starts to suspect that said irony is really something else: a point de capiton, Lacan’s term for the anchoring point in discourse “by which the signifier stops the otherwise indefinite sliding of  signification.”[1]  The repeated national assertions that Obama’s mixed-race birth is an irony subject to anxious and jokey allusion is one such anchoring point for the national imaginary. That is to say, as exemplified in the joke Wanda Sykes told before the gathered press, political and celebrity corps (see epigraph), American mixed-race discourse as a point de capiton gathers up the other amorphous discourses circulating around Obama’s nativity, and halts the ceaseless spread of their signification just before they spill over onto non-national, postcolonial  terrain.[2]  Sykes’ comic repetition of the phrase “first black president” deliberately taunts any who imagine they do black people any favors by looking “beyond” race, including, presumptively, those who fix such a gaze on a transnational horizon. Equally telling is Sykes’ half-serious joke to revoke Obama’s “firstness” should he disappoint. With this declaration, Sykes evokes a powerful, historically symbolic archetype in black feminist discourse: the black woman with the public capacity to name. Is it possible, I ask in this essay, to articulate this black feminist discourse within and against a U.S. national formation, with a discourse that does justice to the postcolonial trajectory that produced an outer-national figure like Obama?…

Read the entire article here.

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The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive on 2011-04-10 02:24Z by Steven

The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (review)

Theatre Journal
Volume 63, Number 1 (March 2011)
pages 136-138
E-ISSN: 1086-332X; Print ISSN: 0192-2882

Douglas A. Jones Jr.
Stanford University

Although the election of a mixed-race president signaled to many the beginning of the end of the problem of the color line, the discourse of postraciality is “not just the effect of recent pre- and post-millennial effusions”, Tavia Nyong’o notes, but rather “it was already visible, for instance, during the antebellum struggle to abolish slavery”. In his stunning new book The Amalgamation Waltz, Nyong’o compels us to confront the problematics of this particular dialectic—namely, the nascent talk of racial transcendence alongside the entrenchment of white supremacy and racialized slavery. For Nyong’o, this struggle was/is too often waged on the back of the “hybrid child.” The Amalgamation Waltz argues against the biopolitical notion that the keys to a national transcendence of race inhere within mixed-race subjects; instead, he insists, “racial mixing and hybridity are neither problems for, nor solutions to, the long history of ‘race’ and racism, but part of its genealogy”.

The author begins with the contention that hybridity can both sustain and disrupt the pedagogy of the “national Thing,” Slavoj Žižek’s term for an indefinable essence that appears to be present throughout the nation’s way of life, but only exists as long as members of the community continue to believe in it. For Nyong’o, the American national Thing is “a powerful force shaping the nation” that “often accommodates hybridity to an official teleology that is forever reducing the many to the one”…

Read or purchase the review here.

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The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2009-08-30 04:36Z by Steven

The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory

University of Minnesota Press
248 pages
18 b&w photos | 6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-8166-5613-4 (paper)
ISBN: 978-0-8166-5612-7 (cloth)

Tavia Nyong’o, Associate Professor of Performance Studies
New York University

Does racial hybridity offer a future beyond racial difference?

At a time when the idea of a postracial society has entered public discourse, The Amalgamation Waltz investigates the practices that conjoined blackness and whiteness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Scrutinizing widely diverse texts—archival, musical, visual, and theatrical—Tavia Nyong’o traces the genealogy of racial hybridity, analyzing how key events in the nineteenth century spawned a debate about interracialism that lives on today.

Deeply interested in how discussions of racial hybridity have portrayed the hybrid as the recurring hope for a distant raceless future, Nyong’o is concerned with the ways this discourse deploys the figure of the racial hybrid as an alibi for a nationalism that reinvents the racist logics it claims to have broken with.  As Nyong’o demonstrates, the rise of a pervasive image of racially anomalous bodies responded to the appearance of an independent black public sphere and organized politics of black uplift.  This newfound mobility was apprehended in the political imaginary as a bodily and sexual scandal, and the resultant amalgamation discourse, he argues, must be recognized as one of the earliest and most enduring national dialogues on sex and sexuality.

Nyong’o tracks the emergence of the concept of the racial hybrid as an ideological modernization of the older concept of the mongrel and shows how this revision brought race-thinking in line with new understandings of sex and gender, providing a racial context for the shift toward modern heterosexuality, the discourse on which postracial metaphors so frequently rely.  A timely rebuttal to our contemporary fascination with racial hybridity, The Amalgamation Waltz questions the vision of a national future without racial difference or conflict.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Antebellum Genealogies of the Hybrid Future
  • 1. The Mirror of Liberty: Constituent Power and the American Mongrel
  • 2. In Night’s Eye: Amalgamation, Respectability, and Shame
  • 3. Minstrel Trouble: Racial Travesty in the Circum-Atlantic Fold
  • 4. Carnivalizing Time: Decoding the Racial Past in Art and Installation
  • Conclusion: Mongrel Pasts, Hybrid Futures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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