race and america | September 07, 2011

Randall Kennedy: Obama, Like Jackie Robinson, Must Rise Above Racial Abuse

With the 2012 election looming, Randall Kennedy appeared on CNN to discuss whether Barack Obama's presidency has been clouded by racially charged distractions from his opponents. Put another way: is Obama less respected than any other previous president because he’s black? The answer, Kennedy says, matter-of-factly, is yes. Kennedy’s new book, The Persistence of the Color Line, deals directly with race and politics during Obama's time in office. 

During the interview, Kennedy said that “President Obama is in much the same position as Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson suffered all sorts of abuse, much of it racial abuse. He had to rise above it.” But rising above the abuse for Obama is fraught with specific obstacles. If Obama gets aggressive, he risks being labeled with the “angry black man” stereotype. But if he's contemplative, he’s dismissed as “too professorial.” Kennedy concludes that Obama should stay away from race-related issues during the 2012 election, not because of any fault of his own, but because the racial-tinged disrespect shown to him during his first term, “says something very bad about our political environment.”

Known for his fearlessness in tackling sensitive racial matters, Kennedy brings the divisive issues that plague black America to the forefront of mass culture. His latest book, The Persistence of the Color Line, is in stores now.