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The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

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Kennedy’s answer – which he articulates in the first sentence of the book – is no. Kennedy writes, “The terms under which Barack Obama won the presidency, the conditions under which he governs, and the circumstances under which he seeks reelection all display the haunting persistence of the color line.” Guided by this thesis, subsequent chapters consider how race (and sometimes gender) factored into blacks’ response to Obama, whites’ response to Obama, and the president’s own rhetoric.

Regarding the black community, Kennedy posits that Obama walked “the tightrope between being black enough but not too black.” He cites comments in The New Republic, AfroChat.net, and New York magazine that indicate Obama’s dark-skinned, African-American wife won him particular goodwill among many in the black community. For these contributors, the president’s mate was a sign of his commitment to his black identity. On the other hand, Kennedy suggests that Obama’s elusive stance on affirmative action made many blacks suspect the president’s commitment to racial fairness.

Nevertheless, Kennedy recognizes Obama’s overwhelming popularity among most African Americans. He credits their enthusiasm to “the magnetism of success,” as well as to neediness: “Blacks are so used to being neglected, if not mistreated, that they often tend to exaggerate the virtues of authorities that treat them with even a modicum of respect.”

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