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Your Black Scholar: Peniel Joseph Writes from the DNC

By Peniel E. Joseph,

What About the Black Community America?

A front page story in today’s New York Times explores the way in which Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy has precipitated excitement and anxiety among African Americans underscores the way in which race continues to contour the dynamics of this historic election. Obama’s march to the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination has produced what I call “racial vertigo” in the United States and beyond. Racial vertigo is characterized by a profound inability to comprehend historic events and phenomena due to the way in which they upend pre-conceived notions of America’s color-line. This is to say that the prospect and promise of Barack Obama being elected America’s first black president has dramatically transformed the national political landscape in ways that continue to defy analysis. In America, what the pre-eminent black intellectual of the twentieth century–W.E.B. Du Bois–called “double-consciousness” cuts both ways. Du Bois defined “double-consciousness” as the tightrope between American citizenship and black marginalization that African Americans faced. Famously, Du Bois wrote of a “veil” or wall that separated blacks and whites in a world where skin color shaped social, political, and economic reality. The color-line imposed its will on white folk as well, allowing them to embrace an identity that, in large measure, defined itself as anti-black. This fiction was backed by an elaborate mythology that used popular culture, public policy, and, as a last resort, racial terror to rationalize black oppression. Racial vertigo distorts these deeply ingrained assumptions that shape the hopes, dreams, ambitions, potential, and imagination of all Americans.

Obama’s dramatic primary battle against Hilary Clinton revealed stark racial and gender cleavages within the Democratic Party and the nation as a whole…

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