The election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States has opened a new chapter in the country’s long and often tortured history of inter-racial and inter-ethnic relations. Many relished in the inauguration of the country’s first African American president — an event foreseen by another White House aspirant, Senator Robert Kennedy, four decades earlier. What could have only been categorized as a dream in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education was now a reality. Some dared to contemplate a post-racial America. Still, soon after Obama’s election a small but persistent faction questioned his eligibility to hold office; they insisted that Obama was foreign-born. Following the Civil Rights battles of the 20th century hate speech, at least in public, is no longer as free flowing as it had been. Perhaps xenophobia, in a land of immigrants, is the new rhetorical device to assail what which is non-white and hence un-American. Furthermore, recent debates about immigration and racial profiling in Arizona along with the battle over rewriting of history and civics textbooks in Texas suggest that a post-racial America is a long way off.
What roles do race, ethnicity, ancestry, immigration status, locus of birth play in the public and private conversations that defy and reinforce existing conceptions of what it means to be American?
This book exposes the changing and persistent notions of American identity in the age of Obama. Amílcar Antonio Barreto, Richard L. O’Bryant, and an outstanding line up of contributors examine Obama’s election and reelection as watershed phenomena that will be exploited by the president’s supporters and detractors to engage in different forms of narrating the American national saga. Despite the potential for major changes in rhetorical mythmaking, they question whether American society has changed substantively.
"With the inauguration of Barack Obama, pundits and prophets from all across the political spectrum announced the end of race and racism. Yet under the shroud of ‘The Dream’ achieved, sat Trayvon, Detroit, ICE raids, Voter ID laws, the birther movement, Shelby County v. Holder and a host of social conditions clearly colored by America’s racial reality but now made seemingly illegible by the claims of a post-racial society. Barreto and O’Bryant take up the daunting task to confront this critical moment not as an end but a beginning, a world in need of a new language for a new racial landscape. With courage and dare we say hope, these essays tackle the vexing theaters of war surrounding the president’s citizenship, his religion, his shifting status between too black and not black enough, and the meaning of all this for a multiracial America clinging tightly to its image as leader of the free world. The collection boldly demonstrates that only through an honest assessment of the Age of Obama, both its beauty and its ugliness, can we build any sustainable visions for a truly democratic future."
—Davarian L. Baldwin, Trinity College
"American Identity in the Age of Obamais a must read for scholars of race, ethnicity, immigration, presidential politics, and overall American politics. This is a book that analyzes the dynamic role of America’s first black American president, and how his election has directly affected how the US is viewed internationally, how we discuss race in the 21st century, how we incorporate non-black and non-white individuals into larger discussions of the American polity, and how we view national identity through an increasingly more complex lens."
—Christina Greer, Fordham University
Introduction: The Age of Obama and American Identity; Amílcar Antonio Barreto and Richard L. O’Bryant. 1. Obama and Enduring Notions of American National Identity; Amílcar Antonio Barreto. 2. Racial Identification in a Post Obama Era: Multiracialism, Identity Choice and Candidate Evaluation; Natalie Masuoka. 3. The Son of a Black Man from Kenya and a White Woman from Kansas: Immigration and Racial Neoliberalism in the Age of Obama; Josue David Cisneros. 4. Immigrant Resentment and American Identity in the Twenty-First Century; Deborah J. Schildkraut. 5. Browning our way to Post-Race: Identity, Identification, and Securitization of Brown; Kumarini Silva. 6. White Masculinities in the Age of Obama: Rebuilding or Reloading?; Steven D. Farough. 7. "Exceptionally Distinctive: President Obama’s Complicated Articulation of American Exceptionalism; Joseph M. Valenzano and Jason A. Edwards. 8. Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy Leadership: Renewing America’s Image; Mark A. Menaldo 9. The First Black President?: Cross-Racial Perceptions of Barack Obama's Race; David Wilson and Matthew Hunt
Group identities have been an important part of political life in America since the founding of the republic. For most of this long history, the central challenge for activists, politicians, and scholars concerned with the quality of U.S. democracy was the struggle to bring the treatment of ethnic and racial minorities and women in line with the creedal values spelled out in the nation’s charters of freedom. We are now several decades from the key moments of the twentieth century when social movements fractured America’s system of ascriptive hierarchy. The gains from these movements have been substantial. Women now move freely in all realms of civil society, hold high elective offices, and constitute more than 50 percent of the workforce. Most African-Americans have now attained middle class status, work in integrated job sites, and live in suburbs. Finally, people of color from nations in Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean now constitute the majority of America’s immigration pool.
In the midst of all of these positive changes, however, glaring inequalities between groups persist. Indeed, ethnic and racial minorities remain far more likely to be undereducated, unemployed, and incarcerated than their counterparts who identify as white. Similarly, both violence and work place discrimination against women remain rampant in U.S. society. The Routledge series on identity politics features works that seek to understand the tension between the great strides our society has made in promoting equality between groups and the residual effects of the ascriptive hierarchies in which the old order was rooted.
Some of the core questions that the series will address are: how meaningful are the traditional ethnic, gender, racial, and sexual identities to our understanding of inequality in the present historical moment? Do these identities remain important bases for group mobilization in American politics? To what extent can we expect the state to continue to work for a more level playing field among groups?