1st Edition

Racial Imagination and the American Dream The Peace-Maker, The Prophet and The Politician

By Charles P. Henry Copyright 2024
    160 Pages
    by Routledge

    160 Pages
    by Routledge

    Although the phrase "the American Dream" dates from the 1930s, the concept or idea of the American Dream is as old as the country. The values proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and reaffirmed (and extended) in the Gettysburg Address have been continuously promoted by every American president. Moreover, they form the basis of our national collective narrative as expressed through both elite and popular culture. The American Dream is intrinsically tied to the American Creed and American Exceptionalism. It is the foundation of our national identity, the glue that holds together our individual aspirations. Yet until the mid-twentieth century, the American Dream excluded African Americans. We as a nation—as an imagined community—could not imagine an integrated, multiracial society with Blacks and Whites living together as equals.

    By examining the lives of the only three African American Nobel Peace Prize winners, we can see how their lives were shaped by the American Dream, and how their success was used to deny the structural racism that prevented others from achieving the American Dream. Ralph Bunche as a role model of academic and technical expertise, Martin Luther King, Jr., as a model race leader, and Barack Obama as a political leader provide a window on the changing meaning of the American Dream.

    In conclusion, Haiti is presented as a failed example of an attempt to export the American Dream in the form of American Exceptionalism, and racial reparations are reimagined as a radical democratic project aimed at true global integration and justice.

    1. Introduction 2. Ralph Bunche: A Worldview of Race 3. King’s Dream 4. Barack Obama: Reclaiming the American Dream 5. American Exceptionalism: The American Dream Exported 6. Reimagining Racial Reparations


    Charles P. Henry is Professor Emeritus of African American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, USA, and Chair of the Board of the Center for Victims of Torture. He is the author/editor of nine books including Black Studies and the Democratization of American Higher Education and Long Overdue: The Politics of Racial Reparations, the editor of Foreign Policy and the Black (Inter)national Interest, and the co-editor of The Obama Phenomenon: Toward a Multiracial Democracy.

    "What is the relationship between racial identity and the American Dream?  Can the Dream be reimagined as a radical democratic project to create a racially just and inclusive society? This question haunts three iconic Black leaders — Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama — each of whom sought to democratize the American Dream. Charles Henry’s superb and eloquent book casts a spotlight on a dilemma at the heart of American society, and makes a clarion call for moral reparations as the path toward restorative racial justice."

     - Ambassador John Shattuck, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


    "Bunche, King, and Obama are not only three Black Nobel Peace Prize laureates; they are three great Americans who strode across the world stage with wisdom and dignity. In Racial Imagination and the American Dream Charles P. Henry brilliantly links their lives, their accomplishments, and their moral leadership with the struggle for racial equality both here and abroad. A thought-provoking and always insightful analysis of America’s evolving creed."

     - Professor Kal Raustiala, author of The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the Nations, and the Fight to End Empire


    "Charles Henry’s Racial Imagination and the American Dream: The Peacemaker, the Prophet and
    the Politician explores the conceptions for political reform by some of the most creative
    political thinkers of the last century. A biographer of Bunche, a scholar of Obama’s presidency
    and student of King, Henry examines the ways in which Black American life has been shaped by
    these leaders. Starting with Derrick Bell’s invention of critical race theory, Henry offers a
    comprehensive analysis of the complex policies that have been developed to change African
    Americans’ racial status quo, concluding with the challenges of and possibilities for reparations."

     - Dianne Pinderhughes, Professor of Africana Studies and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.