Randall Kennedy on This American Moment

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Every so often TOTN will talk to "big gets" — artists, writers, politicians, philosophers, theologians, and thinkers who have packed schedules and are hard to book — about what this election means to them, the country, the world, and history. It's part of our ongoing series called, "This American Moment." Today, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy will give us his perspective. An expert on race and a Rhodes scholar, Kennedy served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He's penned several books including, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, and most recently, Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal. And he recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post called, "The Big 'What If'," about the potential fallout if Senator Obama loses in November. Should make for a spicy discussion.

So tell us, BOTNers, what does this American moment mean to you? And has your opinion changed since the primaries?



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If Obama does not get elected as the President of the USA I think I will sell my house and move to Canada. I can't take another George Bush!

Sent by Laurie Rogers | 3:53 PM | 9-22-2008

I am a white man. I believe if Obama does not win, it will not only be due to underlying racial prejudice, but also prejudice toward intelligence, education, urban dwelling, and those who seek unity between divergent people in America.

Sent by Laurence Qamar | 3:53 PM | 9-22-2008

I've been making calls to registered voters in Nevada at the phone bank at Silicon Valley Obama headquarters, and it's obvious to me that racism is alive and well in Nevada. I have had many racist comment, some quite shocking that are not fit for repeating. They just strength my resolve to do all I can to get Obama elected.

Sent by susan Wilson | 3:54 PM | 9-22-2008

When I hear that if Barrack Obama is not elected it will be because of his race I have to refer to Martin Luther King's heartfelt statement in his "I have a dream" speech that a person will be judged by the "content of his character" not the "color of his skin". Do we not risk perpetuating racism is we define an Obama victory as a "racial" victory and an Obama defeat as a "racial" defeat? Can a person not come to the conclusion that a given voter's political views differ from a given candidate, whether he is black or white? My view is that if we stay with substance, race will become irrelevant. If we stay will race, substance will be the victim and it will diminish the accomplishments of Barrack Obama.

Sent by Scott Hilton | 3:56 PM | 9-22-2008

Obama is 50% white. Why does every one talk as though he is 100% black? Is everyone so hung up on him looking black, so therefor he is. I see him as half and half. And, that makes him equal to both sides or the racial devide.

Sent by Niel Moser | 3:56 PM | 9-22-2008

I think it is silly to believe prejudice is not everywhere - some people just cannot bother with reason-but this is not just about race. We need to learn to just work with some of this. I neither excuse it or believe it should be blamed if Obama loses. By the way, I am a white Republican who will vote for Obama

Sent by Joy Sakai | 3:56 PM | 9-22-2008

I am a white middle aged woman and I will be heart-broken if Obama does not win. I believe he is the best person for the job at this time in history.
I also believe that a factor in the republican's choice of palin was to provide cover to closet & unconcious racists who are uncomfortable with the idea that a black man may be the best person to run this nation. They can now claim to be voting for a woman rather than against a black man.

Sent by Beverly Boido | 3:58 PM | 9-22-2008

I find this a time of two paradigm shifts getting ready to collide and I'm curious what others have made of it.

On one hand, we have the upcoming election with Barack Obama facing off John McCain and we're learning from polls that america may not be ready to invest itself in an clearly intelligent, capable african american.

On the other hand, you have states, universities and public opinion that it is time to get rid of equal rights becuase there isn't bias against minorities (or women).

If Barack gets elected, does it reinforce one? If he doesn't, does it show that Affirmative Action is still needed? Are they connected??

Sent by Stacey Smith | 3:59 PM | 9-22-2008

I am a little annoyed with the insinuation that a white person like me cannot have real reasons to not vote for Obama. Frankly, if Obama changes his views on energy solutions I will vote for him.

Energy is such an important issue to this nation that Obama's statements indicating his views on energy solutions are alone my reason for considering not voting for him.

The fact that I am a white Jew means my not voting for Obama would be counted as a race-issue vote against Obama.

While it is high-time a black person is seriously considered for President, is not also high-time for blacks to stop talking about a raceially motivated vote?

Sent by Jesse Rothschild. | 3:59 PM | 9-22-2008

Can nobody see this discussion and sentiment as fueling racism?

Why can we not look at Barak Obama as possible great leader who happens to be black. Why do we have to view McCain primarily as an old, white man rather than a seasoned civil servant. I know racism is still sharp in our noses from the past fifty years, and it is still in many respects alive today. Still, to some degree our only chance to defeat this plague on our society (which racism is along with many other injustices) we must move past them and embrace a new, just, fair social opinion.

Obama is black; get over it. If he loses, it is because a majority of the population of this country has not chosen him to be our leader for the time in the role of president.

jacob r starkey
wichita, ks

[i'm 22 and white. i'm sure you want to know, but i believe you shouldn't care]

Sent by jacob r starkey | 3:59 PM | 9-22-2008

I am a 41 year old white woman who is from North Easten Wyoming and am a Obama supporter. As is my husband, 18 year old son and mother in law. This is such an exciting time in our lifetime to see what is happening in our nation. I truly believe it is time for change, starting with Barak Obama.

Sent by Lisa Gilkey | 4:00 PM | 9-22-2008

I happen to be a Nigerian Immigrant, but much more of the people with whom I interact are white than black, including many acquaintances of other cultures. After all, I live in Boulder County Colorado, which is not the most diverse spot in the US with regard to actual population. However one of the things I cherish about Northern Front Range Colorado are the youthful, worldly, open-minded attitudes--a combination of individualism and pragmatism with social progressiveness. I think huge numbers of such people are just as emotionally invested in Obama as Black Americans and that they wold be every bit as devastated were he to lose.

I do tend to think that the media is exaggerating the likelihood of his losing, based on present evidence. They seem to emphasize polls that highlight McCain's gains, but not those that show the opposite. Thin is just natural because of the power of the Obama story. Contradicting that story is more newsworthy than continually confirming it. In reality, there is no need for negative thinking among those of us with heavy investment in Obama's candidacy. We should keep working to elect him, to be sure, but it's far too early for "what if he loses" hand-wringing.

Sent by Uche Ogbuji | 4:02 PM | 9-22-2008

I'm tired of hearing that if Obama looses it's because of the white voting again a black. I'm having a hard time with his lack of experience and his supports playing the race card. If Colin Powell were running I would be voting hands down for him and he's black! I'm not thrilled with either choice of presidential candidate, but adding Obama's lack of experience and now his supports playing the race card....My vote was his to loose and he's just about there.

Sent by Vandi | 4:02 PM | 9-22-2008

and what if Obama wins? As one who thinks the modern Democratic cadidates have all followed a losing strategy(even Clinton was elected by Perot), I will vote for Nader. I believe todays problems require popular support to be solved in the Washington climate which has created most of them, and I worry an Obama win risks both weak immediate pressure and future disenfranchisment of voters as campaign words fall under the financeers bus. The non 'white male' faces of this years election have certainly added to voter enthusiasm, but its civic engagment, not candidates, where the hope lies.

Sent by Nate | 4:05 PM | 9-22-2008

With all due respect to your excellent guest, Prof. Kennedy, I believe the premise of this discussion ("What if he loses?") is flawed. Why? Because as a white voter who passionately supports Obama, I feel that his candidacy represents the first real opportunity for our country to actually transcend race. If you agree that Obama's appeal goes beyond race and racism, then Prof. Kennedy's suggestion that should he lose, it is ("rightly") an indictment of America's racism demonstrates a kind of unfortunate short-sightedness.
Sen. Obama is the right candidate for this time in American history, and gives us a wonderful opportunity to not only transcend race, but to re-establish our image in the world. To see a possible defeat as "racist" misses part of the point. His very candidacy shows how we are in the process of growing up as a nation. Let us hope we are as far along as a country as he would like us to believe.

Sent by Henry Schvey | 4:09 PM | 9-22-2008

The question was, "How will you react if Obama loses?" My answer: I will move to another country.

Sent by Kathleen Aki | 4:20 PM | 9-22-2008

I am concerned for our nation as a whole if Obama gets elected because he is "black." Should we protest and rage if McCain loses the election and place our blame on "ageism"? I fear all the sensationalism around Obama's race is what is driving the stereotypes in this country. Furthermore, those stereotypes are what breed racism. I am white, and voting for McCain cause I agree with his stance on issues such as abortion and taxes. If Obama shared my views I would vote for him. But he doesn't so I am not. The problem in this election is that race is being pointed at as "the big issue" and I don't think it has as big a role as some want us to believe. (I believe the bigger role would have to be experience. I am speaking of the presidential candidates and not the vp.) I fear that sort of rationalization will lead to a further divide in the relationship between black and white America. Also, this isn't the only election left in American politics. I whole heartedly agree that it would be great to see an African American in the white house, but if it isn't this election cycle it isn't the end of the world. And it doesn't mean that America as a whole is a racist country. How silly. In your discussion with Randall Kennedy he mentioned that as a whole the black community in America identifies themselves with the left and with democrates. That kind of leaves guys like me that want to vote for a moderate or conservative african american out. Hopefully, irregardless of who wins this election, Barack Obama has encouraged young African American men and women to be more involved in the political system in this country and out of that inspiration, hopefully a conservative one will arise that I can vote for. Regards

Sent by Ben Lotzgesell | 4:35 PM | 9-22-2008

A Barack Obama loss would be for me, very disappointing but not surprising. This country has always struggled with the equilibrium of power between black and white. With that said, if Obama should loose, I for one will lament the potential progress his presidency might have meant for this country and the world. I am speaking of the obvious progress derived from the signing of The Emancipation Proclamation, the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Yet, the very passing of these three amendments is in and of itself some indication of the possibilities that he can and will succeed. After all in the case of the aforementioned, America was just as divided. And while Obama can't solve all of the problems that he is bound to inherit from the current administration, an Obama presidency might symbolically get America over this racial hump. However, Americans as individuals have a long ways to go in terms of honestly assessing and becoming progressive in improving race relations, or for that matter, human relations, and as always the world is watching this great big moral compass.

Sent by Monica | 4:52 PM | 9-22-2008

My husband and I are seniors, and white midwesterners and liberal democrats. If Obama loses we'd like to leave the country!!!

Sent by Polly Johnson | 8:11 PM | 9-22-2008

I was just wondering why it is never mentioned, that Sen. Obama could run again in 2012. You all have acted as if this is his very last chance if he doesn't win this year.

Sent by Sandra Denton | 10:39 PM | 9-22-2008

I don't believe that the if Obama doesn't win should be boiled down to the color of his skin. I don't really see that as a big issue. If that was the case, then I don't think he would even be as far as he is currently. I feel that Hillary's situation is because the country is not ready for a woman. I think it boils down to not being ready for that particular man or woman. With a less than 5% difference in the DNA between people to control appearance, I don't see someone of a different shade as being from a different race. I think it boils down to issues and the politics and answers. Please don't make this a race item. What is in the past should remain there, there has been plenty of mistakes made by humanity. Let it be history.

Sent by Peter Knipschield(nip shield) | 8:51 AM | 9-23-2008

As a white, southern, Jew whose greatest concerns include an effective energy policy, I assure you my vote for or against Obama will ride largely on his stated views on energy issues. What is troublesome to me is that if I choose to not vote for Obama because I dislike his proposed energy solutions, my not voting for him will be seen as a racially motivated vote against him.

Yes it is high-time a black person is seriously considered for the presidency, but is it not also high-time that I not be considered a racist if I do not vote for this man?

Sent by Jesse Rothschild | 10:42 AM | 9-23-2008

I will be disappointed but I know that because of what he has done the future is wide open for the next generation of ALL Americans. The paradigm of America has changed and some people really are stuck in a world that they want to believe still exists where neighborhoods and jobs and schools were homogeneous but America is different now and the future can't be stopped.

Sent by Kerii | 1:07 PM | 9-23-2008

I would be very happy to see Obama win. The fact that he is black is irrelevant compared to the fact that I agree with many of his ideas. Alan Keyes is also black, but he did not get my vote.

I see presidential elections like the Super Bowl. While I'd love to see my team win, whether they do or not there will be another game next year. Regardless of who is inaugurated in Jan., I will still have to show up for work and do my job in order to earn the money that funds my life.

Go team!!!

Sent by Landry Butler | 1:46 PM | 9-23-2008

I do not want Obama to win, because I am republican. Am I racist?

Sent by Ed Sheresh | 8:41 AM | 9-24-2008

I am a 51 year old white male from rual Indiana. 13th generation American.! I am concerned if Obama loses it will be blamed on the whites because of raceism. Many blacks will vote for Obama because he is black.. Isn't that a form of racism too?
I want my vote to impower America, not black or white.
I am stuck in the middle, I believe a woman has a right to choose while she owns a gun. I believe we should drill here but we should protect our enviroment. I believe everybody that can work should work. These are not "black or white" issues. Why do we always have to choose sides.??
Lets give racism a rest and do what is right for all Americans...

Sent by Bruce H.. | 12:16 PM | 9-24-2008