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August 22, 2014, 1:38 pm

Author puts Obama in broader racial context

Race is a difficult concept to grasp, with outbursts and silences that disguise its relationships with a host of other phenomena. Barack Obama's election as the first Black president in American history forced a reconsideration of racial reality and possibility. It also incited an outpouring of discussion and analysis of Obama's personal and political exploits. “Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America” (Stanford University Press, $22.95) fills a significant void in Obama-themed debate, shifting the emphasis from the details of Obama's political career to an understanding of how race works in America. In this groundbreaking book, race, rather than Obama, is the central focus.

Michael P. Jeffries approaches Obama's election and administration as common cultural ground for thinking about race. He uncovers contemporary stereotypes and anxieties by examining historically rooted conceptions of race and nationhood, discourses of "biracialism" and Obama's mixed heritage, the purported emergence of a "post-racial society," and popular symbols of Michelle Obama as a modern Black woman. In so doing, Jeffries casts new light on how we think about race and enables us to see how race, in turn, operates within our daily lives. Jeffries, the Sidney R. Knafel Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences at Wellesley College, is the author of “Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop (2011),” and a frequent contributor to The Atlantic and The Guardian, UK.

"‘Paint the White House Black’ is a breathtaking work that explains how the language and logic of race shape our collective existence,” notes “hip-hop intellectual” Michael Eric Dyson. “Michael Jeffries brilliantly clarifies the shifting intellectual and social anatomy of our most perplexing national obsession. This creative and courageous book shines a powerful analytical light that can help us do better because, thanks to Jeffries, we now know and think better.”

Using Barack Obama as its point of departure, “Paint the White House Black” boldly aims to understand race by tracing the web of interactions that bind it to other social and historical forces.


Contact Tribune Staff Writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .