A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair).
Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama's major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes?
Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage.
President Obama’s own voice—from an Oval Office interview granted to Dyson for this book—along with those of Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and Maxine Waters, among others, add unique depth to this profound tour of the nation’s first black presidency.
In insightful fashion, Dyson (Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster) looks at how President Obama has dealt with, in James Baldwin's phrase, "the burden of representation" as an African-American. He begins with the president's strained relationships with political elders such as Marcia Fudge, Emanuel Cleaver, and Maxine Waters. Dyson cites Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as inspirations for the president's "linguistic charisma" and podium skills, which reflect "the beauty and power of black rhetoric." However, Dyson roundly criticizes Obama's typically measured responses to the race-related controversies of his term, from professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s arrest in Massachusetts and the death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida to the riots in Ferguson, Mo., and the church murders in Charleston, S.C. At the same time, the author acknowledges that, as America's first black president, Obama faces unusually heightened expectations. He has been in a precarious position, one that Dyson examines diligently and passionately in this timely analysis.