Read The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson Online


A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair). Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publiA provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair). Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama's major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes?  Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage.  President Obama’s own voice—from an Oval Office interview granted to Dyson for this book—along with those of Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and Maxine Waters, among others, add unique depth to this profound tour of the nation’s first black presidency....

Title : The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
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ISBN : 9780544387669
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 368 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America Reviews

  • Emma
    2019-03-11 09:36

    In Dyson’s book, race is presented as the ‘defining feature’ of Obama’s two terms in office. He bears the ‘burden of representation’ (James Baldwin) as a President whose speech and action is always perceived through the lens of his colour. His is ‘the black presidency’, separated from all who had come before him by this singular characteristic. For some, Obama’s black skin makes him a lesser link in a chain of whiteness, yet for others, he is evidence of the successful extension of privilege and opportunity to a minority group who had never before achieved such democratic representation. Either way, Dyson believes that Obama has changed the very nature of the American presidency, but in this vocabulary of difference there is both positive and negative.Dyson specifically focuses on Obama’s speeches on race, the words that he has used to represent himself and his office, examining how these Presidential addresses respond to current racial and political events and issues. It is clear that Dyson thinks Obama has not pushed hard enough for black rights, that he has had the tendency to refuse to take an assertive or difficult position when it comes to racial issues. At the same time, he does acknowledge the tightrope Obama has had to walk, the incredible opposition he has faced within both he political system and wider society. At one point, Dyson wonders whether the seemly unstoppable violence of the state apparatus against black bodies over the last years has been the result of the fear racists have felt at the notion of having a black man in the highest office of their country. A redirection of hate from Obama to those men and women who are right in from of them on a daily basis. He likens the situation to Martin Luther King's, who felt guilt for those he inspired to fight, and die, for the cause of black rights. Obama must have experienced at least some of that kind of pressure everyday. Too black for some, too white for others. I’m neither American, nor black, so perhaps it is just ignorance talking, but it seems to me that Obama was bound to fail. He had so many strings pulling him in so many directions that disappointment was inevitable. The underlying question here is: what does he owe people? Does he owe those who share his skin colour just because they share that characteristic? How can that even work unless you assume that all black people have the same values and wants? Does he owe the people who voted for him, whatever their makeup, with all their myriad of views? Does he owe the people who paid contributions to his campaign? Etc etc, on and on. In all that, what does he owe himself? If anything, this book has made me all the more interested in who Obama is going to be once his term in office is up. I wonder if he will use the greater freedom to address some of the issues Dyson has raised here and if he will feel like he can say more about the challenges faced by being the first black man to hold this office. I wonder most of all, if he feels like it was worth it.Many thanks to Michael Eric Dyson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

  • Andre
    2019-03-13 12:47

    A worthy analysisOne must admit that Dyson certainly has a way with words. This is one of the reasons I enjoy his writing and speaking. He is very clever when turning a phrase. And so it is with this latest effort from Dyson, the prose is smartly delivered in this book that examines Obama's presidency from the perspective of his public speeches dealing with race. Some may see this as a limited undertaking, but the subtitle is; Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America. The president comes under fire from Dyson, for being too passive when addressing issues of race. Dyson, so often hints, while not being fully throated in this criticism, that Obama is overly concerned with hurting white folks feelings or in drawing their rancor. "Obama often has been loath to lift his voice on race lest he be relegated to a black box, although his reluctance has kept the nation from his wisdom and starved black folk of the most visible interpreter of their story and plight, an interpreter who also carries the greatest political clout in the nation’s history."He seems to walk a fine line in this book, while saying obviously in response to critics, that I have criticized the president, but he also appears to be saying that he understands that being the first Black president and working with an obstructionist congress is a huge burden to bear and any criticism coming from Black America would do well to keep that in mind.Dyson does a great job of recounting the more memorable moments of Obama's presidency from the Philadelphia speech on race, the distancing from his pastor, the Trayvon Martin killing, Ferguson and right up to the vile murders in the South Carolina church. He discusses each of these events in the context of what Obama said or didn't say. He also was able to interview Obama for this book, although he said he had to fight for the 20 minutes he was given, which turned into 30. That tidbit will seem a little odd to readers as Dyson talks about his unhindered access to Obama leading up to the first election. Clearly, he fell out of favor at some point, though he does not discuss why. He perhaps may not know and to speculate would seem like sour grapes.This book does much to illuminate some of the challenges of a black presidency, and as many black people have said, including Obama himself, "I can't be president of Black America, I have to be president of all America." But as a brilliant rebuttal, Dyson chimes, "he may not be the president of black America, but he is the president of black Americans. He owes blacks no more, but certainly no less, than he owes all citizens." So, for those who say Dyson is being unfair, the scolding that Obama routinely gives Black audiences is offered up as proof of Obama's intellect and his splendid ability to code-switch. The thinking is, if you can be so articulate on black responsibility, how is it you find such difficulty when it comes to voicing the responsibility of the nation. "Yet Obama energetically peppers his words to blacks with talk of responsibility in one public scolding after another. When Obama upbraids black folk while barely mentioning the flaws of white America, he leaves the impression that race is the concern solely of black people, and that blackness is full of pathology." This we know to be untrue and in urging Barack to find his voice on race, Dyson does a great service to the reader giving one much to ponder and consider if America can ever move to a more perfect union.

  • Sonja
    2019-03-14 09:34

    This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand racism in this country.Quote:The not race; the problem is racism, or the artificial narrowing of racial identity to the size and shape of dominant whiteness. Ironically, the success of black folk and others in the fight against dominant whiteness has caused race, and eventually racism, to be blamed on them. The very people who turned a liability into an advantage by redefining racial terms, and improving their destinies, have taken the rap for race. One of the privileges of whiteness is the ability not to appear white at all, but to be seen simply as "human." (pp 66-67)End of quoteDyson brilliantly examines and analyzes Obama's speeches and the language he uses. Quote:Obama's speechmaking and oral signifying reflect the beauty and power of black rhetoric - its peculiar rules and regulations, its sites and sounds, its labyrinth of complicated meanings, its bedazzling linguistic variety, its undulating cadences, and its irreverent challenges to "proper" grammar....Obama's about understanding the cultural traditions that feed and shape his linguistic appetites. It is about knowing the racial practices against which that speech is pitched. It is about engaging the racial environments in which speech is formed. It is about knowing that black speech is always about much more than what things are said but about how those thins are said. (p77)end of quoteDyson digs in to reveal why Obama disturbs the far-right Tea Party and others who consider themselves just conservative.Quote:The far-right Tea Party and the conspiracy theorist birthers despise Obama so much that they want to banish him from Americanness. They want metaphoric sovereignty - well, perhaps they really want the sovereignty of metaphor - over Obama's body: they want to unbirth his existence, uproot him from American soil, foreclose against his house of American identity and offer him a subprime loan of American political capital....despite the claim of the right wing that it is pro-life, it wants to retroactively abort Obama's existence, purge him from the record as unofficial and illegitimate, remove his legislation from the books, repeal "Obamacare," and wipe the record clean of is political speech. Wiping away his political words also means wiping away his cultural and racial words, the way his body and mouth have left their mark all over America. (pp. 78-79)End of quoteDyson looks at Obama's ability to slide along the scale of blackness.Quote:Obama must be heard, and understood, in a broader, blacker context, because that blacker context is both in a class by itself and American to the core, as American as Louis Armstrong and Michael jordan, as American as Condoleezza Rice and Toni Morrison. That blackness is not limiting but freeing: not closed but open; not rigid but fluid. Obama fits along a continuum of black expresin and, depending on the circumstance, slides easily from one end to the other, from vernacular to "proper" expression, from formal to informal, from high-tone to gutter-dense, from specifying to signifying in the blink of an "I." Obama's "I" is both black and biracial, both American and international. it is not the beginning of isolation but the start of a new quest for national identity joined to the long pilgrimage of global identity that borrows from centuries of speaking and existing. In the process, a lot of switches are being flipped: codes, styles, media, frames, cultures, and races.There are echoes in Obama of the rigors and ecstasies of the black speech of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and of course Martin Luther King Jr., all of which harken to the black church. But the complex signifying, verbal devices, oratorical talents, and rhetorical mastery taken for granted in the black church, for instance, are largely unknown outside it. Yet there is a linuistic trace in Obama's speech that leads straight to the black pulpit. (pp 79-80)End of quoteDyson then goes on to reveal to the white reader (and perhaps blacks who don't know the black church experience) the power of the black pulpit. He give context to "audacity of hope" and the now famous Jeremiah Wright's "God damn America." He weighs the importance of the Prophets and Politicians, with the prophet usually prevailing, and the passing of the torch from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Barack Obama.Dyson quite brilliantly places Obama's experiences and speeches against the backdrop of so many African American lives taken by police.Quote:The terror that black people experience is of two varieties. Slow terror is masked but malignant; it stalks black people in denied opportunities that others take for granted. Slow terror seeps into every nook and cranny of black existence: black boys and girls being expelled from school at higher rates than their white peers; black men and women being harassed by unjust fines from local municipalities; having billion of dollars of their wealth drained off by shady financial instruments sold to blacks during the mortgage crisis; and being imprisoned out of proportion to their percentage of the population....Fast terror is more dynamc, more explicitly lethal, more grossly evident. it is the spectacle of black death in public displays of vengeance and violence directed against defenseless black bodies. Shootings like that of Walter Scott traumatize blacks, too, because they conjure the historic legacy of racial terror: lynching castration, and drowning. The black body was not safe then and blacks today do not feel safe, or accepted, or wanted, or desired....The failure to be seen as human unites black people across time in a fellowship of fear as black people share black terror, at both speeds, in common. The way we see race plays a role in these terrors: fast terror is often seen and serves as a warning; slow terror is often not seen and reinforces the invisibility of black suffering. Fast terror scares black people; slow terror scars them. (p. 209)End of quoteI will leave this remarkable book with one more comment and quote. Dyson is profound in his examination of the assassination of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the Emanuel AME church in South Carolina.Quote:Obama knew the minister, but not well, a fact that had moral utility: Pinckney was a proxy for all those who had lost their lives in the recent siege of racial terror that was sweeping the nation. Dylann Roof claimed in his sick manifesto that black people were taking over, a delusion easily rebutted on the same Internet that fed the gunman's twisted logic. No single person better embodied black progress and therefore scared white terrorists more, than Barack Obama. Could it be that unarmed blacks who were dying across the nation were urban proxies for the black presidency and the change it had brought? Those who can't aim a gun at Obama take whatever black lives they can. Roof is not, therefore, a lone wolf. A better way of saying this is that calling him a lone wolf hardly denies the hatred of the philosophical pack from which he separated; the evil he reflects is deeply entrenched in our culture. The banner he killed under did not go away when the Confederate flag - which should have come down long ago - was removed. (p. 258)End of quoteYou must read the end of this book to appreciate what Obama said in his eulogy and how he broke into singing "Amazing Grace." (He lay the framework of "grace" by saying "According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It's not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace. As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we've been blind. He has given us the chance, where we've been lost, to find our best selves." (p 263)

  • Liz
    2019-03-06 08:46

    Michael Eric Dyson approaches The Black Presidency pretty much through an analysis of President Obama's definition of what his racial identity means to him and how he used that identity (or ignored it) in running for office and as the president of the country. The book makes frequent references to Obama's own writing in Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. In those two books President Obama wrote of his early life and aspirations as he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia before making his way to Occidental College, Columbia, and Harvard, finally settling in Chicago. Dyson illustrates how Obama, as far back as his first political job in the Illinois Senate, made conscious decisions about how race would figure into his work and his future. Dyson brings the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson into Obama's words and deeds and takes him to task at pivotal points in the young senator's career and ultimately as leader of the country. In the present, Cornel West and Dyson, himself, challenge Obama’s stance when it comes to addressing “Black folk’s” needs directly.The criticisms Obama faced were of a kind that few could handle with cool intelligence, grace, and dignity. The question is did he let down the African Americans who voted for him? Could he do more and if so, why has he not? This book did an excellent job of analyzing how Obama handled different issues, people and crises and posed questions on why Obama did not come down on the side of demanding more for minority groups, especially African Americans. The narrative is razor sharp and challenges the idea of Obama being a president for all the people, not in particular for any one group. The book is a page turner in the sense that after all is said and done what is the answer to the question of how did Barack Obama handle the politics of race in America? The book answers that question quite eloquently.

  • Bryan Cebulski
    2019-02-20 07:00

    I was half expecting a parade of praise for Obama, but this was, uh, decidedly not that. It turned out to be a much more critical look at Obama's presidency. It wasn't a polemist critique, thankfully. Rather it begins with the notion that both Dyson and Obama both want racial equality in the US, and from there moves through how Dyson perceives Obama's track record on race. Which I found pretty welcome, given how so many have been looking at Obama's politics through rose-tinted goggles at the end of his second term here. It doesn't dig quite as deep into the subject as I would have liked though. A little scattershot.

  • Adam Shields
    2019-02-26 11:47

    Short Review: I thought this was a fascinating book. This is primarily an evaluation of Obama in relation to race. Both how Obama was evaluated based on his race, but even more importantly how Obama's racial identity impacted the way he was president. I was fascinated by the inside politics of black political world and its interaction with the historic and current civil rights movement. This was not a puff piece. Dyson is quite critical of Obama, but that critique was tempered with the reality of the limitations of both Obama as a person (one person can only do so much) and the limitations of the role (the President has a large bully pulpit, but not a lot of impact on day to day policing for instance.)There was significant analysis of Obama's speeches and policy as well as a good comparison with the different styles of leadership between Obama and Eric Holder. And as I explored a bit in my review, a very helpful section on the black leader as prophet or politician. I really liked Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop and I like this even more. It is fascinating to get another perspective on Obama and one that is well informed both because he personally knows Obama and because Dyson is himself well connected to a variety of influential leaders within the black community. My full review is on my blog at

  • Brittany
    2019-02-18 07:40

    I don't even know how to describe this book besides stimulating. I thought I had opinions on so many of these issues, but my lens as a white female is only so capable of seeing the perspective of an esteemed writer and scholar like Dyson. So, I was going to describe it as enlightening or fascinating, but those words don't seem appropriate when having discussions like these. It was well written and educational. I suggest it for all sociological, historical or political junkies.

  • Stan Lanier
    2019-02-16 06:43

    Highly informative analysis/interpretation of how President Obama has come to terms with "blackness" as a cultural concept while serving as the first Afro-American President of the United States of America. Michael Eric Dyson provides an intellectually stimulating account not only of the President, but, also, of our nation during this time. Michael Eric Dyson is a true public intellectual.

  • Wisteria Leigh
    2019-03-06 06:38

    Race discussions in our country are too few and not candid enough. This book gave me insight from a perspective I hadn't considered. The point of view as a black politician regarding the countries perception from Barack Obama's Presidency. Valuable book for all Americans to read.

  • Lindsey Berkowitz
    2019-03-05 07:55

    I can't say that I have enjoyed a book so much in a very long time. Michael Eric Dyson is brilliant, captivating, critical, eloquent, and compassionate. I learned so much from this book, and my hope is that many more will have the curiosity to read it.

  • Steven Meyers
    2019-03-06 07:57

    It seems appropriate for the reader to know that my wife and I are Caucasian and our two teenage sons are African-Americans. We live in Maine which is the whitest state in the United States. One son is 18 and the other is 16. We've cared for them since they were three-weeks old. Despite being in a supportive community, racism has been a constant companion as we've watched our sweet babies grow into responsible young men. Most racist experiences we have attributed to ignorance and indifference. I gotta tell ya, after almost two decades of our sons encountering various levels of racism, it's made me a less patient man with white people's prejudices towards blacks, especially since racist-panderer rockhead President Orange Tumor succeeded President Barack Obama.Professor Dyson's 'The Black Presidency' would do a lot of Caucasians some good if they read the friggin' thing. The author correctly states "The election of Barack Obama symbolized the resurrection of hope and the restoration of belief in a country that has often failed to treat its black citizens as kin." It opened up other possibilities for our sons as well as gave them ample examples of covert and overt racism thrown at President Obama and his wife Michelle. President Obama had the goods: a cool demeanor, political maturity, highly intelligent, an expert about our Constitution, a fantastic orator, and overflowing with an immense amount of empathy for the less fortunate. He is the kind of role model that our sons admired. But despite the president being well suited for the job, the very nature of being the first African-American came with more challenges than if he had been just another white dude. Mr. Dyson does a convincing job of dissecting how race factored into such events as the reaction to the Affordable Care Act; recalcitrant Republicans in Congress; the nonsense of conservatives claiming that we were now in a post-racial society; the economic disparity between blacks and whites; the complexities of President Obama being biracial; the Reverend Jeremiah Wright; the birth of the Tea Party; the loony Birthers; the president's public speaking technique; the killing of African-Americans by law enforcement; and blacks in prison.The author is very fair in his assessment of the president. The book is not just some glowing tribute about how President Obama is so fantastic that he even farts out rainbows. Mr. Dyson also takes the president to task for not being more of an outspoken advocate for African-Americans. What I found impressive is the author's willingness to print verbatim President Obama's rebuttal to Mr. Dyson's charges. The author's writing is not presented in some dull academic style but it would be better to read large chunks of it per sitting. Reading a few pages now then a few pages later will dilute the book's effectiveness. 'The Black Presidency' is not just a work about President Obama. It is also a plea for Americans to recognize racism is still very much with us. It sure is.

  • Frances
    2019-02-18 08:42

    This book will never be on a must read list from Oprah. This book is Dyson rant against President Obama and how Obama failed to challenge white American regarding race relations.Dyson airs his frustration and dissatisfaction that President Obama did not deal with race relations as a number one priority when he became president. Since Dyson’s focus is on race relations he minimizes the job of being president. He does not acknowledge the fact that President Obama had to contend with pulling the country back from a financial crisis during his first term in office. He quotes statements out of context just like the mainstreet media.Dyson’s rant envelops seven chapters and his tone does not change until the eighth chapter of the book. He is so blinded by is own mantra that he is unable to listen to an opposing view when he interviews Eric Holder. In the eighth chapter of the book President Obama delivers the eulogy for the fallen at the Emmanuel AME church in South Carolina. When President Obama gives this speech to the congregation and the world. Dyson is finally satisfied that Obama has hit the mark and delivered a speech on race relations in America. This book was described as provocative but I found Dyson analysis of Obama disrespectful and condescending. In my view the book is a waste of paper.

  • David Anderson
    2019-02-27 11:43

    Dyson's analysis of President Obama's conflicted and often clumsy handling of the politics of race over the course of his career is on the money. He carefully walks the line between being sharply critical and appropriately cognizant of political pressures Obama had to navigate and he takes note of how Obama seemed to shake off his fetters and hit his stride in the latter half of his second term (when he felt free to work on his "bucket list", which rhymes with ... ). Dyson's critique is always well-reasoned and he is never strident, as Cornel West has been (bless his heart, love that man, but he seems to have been unreasonable in his expectations; who did he think we were electing, Bobby Seale or Stokley Carmichael?). I especially got big kick out of chapter 7, "Going Bulworth" (Obama could not quite achieve that level in his discourse, of course, but I sure loved Dyson's analysis of Warren Beatty's film) and the book ends on a high note with Chapter 8, "Amazing Grace", Obama's eulogy following the racist massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., without a doubt the rhetorical peak of Obama's career so far. Highly recommended.

  • Susan
    2019-02-24 11:45

    Dyson's primary point with his analysis of Barack Obama's historic term as POTUS centers on a two-fold approach: Obama is revered within the black community, but his accomplishments did not notably improve their experience in the areas of employment, education, and criminal justice, to name but a few. While critical of Obama's seeming fence-balancing as he dealt with the country's issues, Dyson points out that Obama's position as the most powerful man in the world clearly brought to the fore the racism that still exists in the U.S. Thus, the glorious symbolism of a post-racial America in light of the election of our first black Commander-in-Chief is exposed as a myth. Obama's election exposed the hatred and violence of no-longer silent racists; yet, his rise to our highest office gave voice to activists, leaders, and thinkers within the black community. His vision of hope and change remains standing as Barack Obama's legacy.

  • Margaret Pinard
    2019-02-25 09:40

    Challenging read. Leaned a lot on Obama's main tactic of scolding black folk, but also addressed black rhetoric, Obama's unique position, other black leaders' take, and pivotal moments in Obama's term where things changed, or lessons hit home. I'm more well-rounded after reading it.+ 226 "I have something that rhymes with bucket list" 249 "a legacy of hundreds of years of slavery and segregation, and structural inequalities that compounded over generations. It did not happen by accident." thought-provoking 253 "What's always been strongest about the civil rights movement has been when it said, yes, there is a unique problem here that arises out of race and slavery and segregation. But when you lock us up, you're imprisoning yourself in some fashion. When you deprive that child of opportunity, you're weakening yourself."-207 'the demand for proof of what they believe is not foolproof' confusing sentence

  • David Kent
    2019-02-24 11:50

    A somewhat uneven, but important, book that I highly recommend everyone read. Michael Eric Dyson is someone who knows President Obama, and even acted as an official surrogate for him during the 2008 campaign. He is also a Georgetown professor, a frequent television and print contributor, and someone who knows a thing or two about the black experience in America.Dyson examines the "blackness" of Barack Obama's presidency. While the author points out Obama's deft use of "black language," he also suggests Obama hasn't been black enough. He acknowledges that Obama has had to walk a fine line, yet chides him for not standing up enough for black struggles. Dyson is not afraid to be critical of the President, and here I feel he, at least at times, is being overly and unfairly critical. He makes many excellent points and provides support for those points, and yet I felt he was not always persuasive. After tracing some of the history of African-American civil rights, in which Obama sometimes embraces and sometimes supersedes the elder class of leaders like Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, Dyson's criticisms become more acute. He clearly believes that Obama is too quick to scold African-Americans for their failures while ignoring the failures of white America, both current and historical. Dyson acknowledges the tightrope Obama has had to walk as President between being "too black" and "not black enough." He acknowledges that the role of President requires more finesse and sensitivity to all sides of the argument while the role of activists such as himself and civil rights leaders allows for greater focus and directness. Dyson acknowledges all this and yet at times excoriates the President for not doing enough.Perhaps Dyson is right. Perhaps Obama is right. Dyson provides example after example of why Obama follows the path that he follows, including Obama's own explanations from an Oval Office interview. I find Obama's views more persuasive, but then my perspective comes from a life lived in a "white bubble" while Dyson's comes from that of a black man in a nation that so often has dismissed and discriminated against men and women of color. While I find at times I disagree, I appreciate that he views the situation from a completely different angle than I do.It's this difference in perspective that is why I believe this book is so important. From a white perspective the book provides a clear view into a side most of us have never experienced or even thought about. From a black perspective the book offers up a semi-insiders view of a very complicated position for President Obama. As the first black president he has no precedent for how to handle race. The rise of the tea party, built on racism and bigotry (which is reflected in the 2016 Republican candidates for president), has brought race to the forefront once again. Dyson suggests Obama should embrace that discussion from a black perspective; Obama clearly believes he must walk a fine line.This fine line is perhaps captured best in a later chapter "Going Bulworth," the title referring to the 1998 movie in which a white Senator (Warren Beatty) embraces "blackness." Dyson asserts, probably correctly, that Obama would love to speak freely about race, perhaps (less likely) in the overtly "black" language of the movie. Dyson contrasts Obama's fine line walking with former Attorney General Eric Holder's more obvious embracing of his own blackness. Dyson clearly is enamored of Holder and raises him as a standard he wishes Obama would follow. Ironically, the reporting of Dyson's interview with Holder actually shows that Holder disagrees with Dyson and agrees with the President. If their positions were switched, Holder says, he would probably act more like Obama and Obama like he. Their roles are defined not by their beliefs, but by the limitations or opportunities of their respective political positions in the administration. For me this was persuasive.If I have a problem with this book it is that Dyson seems to see no conflict between his critique of Obama for not using his position to further the black agenda enough and his acknowledgement that doing so simply is not possible. Dyson also seems not to notice that he both credits the President with action and complains that he is not acting enough. He never really discusses the ebbs and flows of "blackness" during Obama's two terms in respect to political benchmarks like the midterm elections, the 2012 presidential election, and various Republican-led attacks on his presidency and the country's fiscal security. While purists could argue against political expediency, the fact is that you can't govern if you aren't in office and don't have support in Congress.Still, my criticisms of Dyson's book don't limit my belief that this is a profoundly important book. And while Dyson clearly criticizes Obama, no one should go away from my review believing that Dyson doesn't have an incredible respect for Obama. Perhaps only those who respect you most are willing to offer honest criticisms, none of which diminishes that respect in the slightest. Dyson's last chapter, "Amazing Grace," focuses on President Obama's eulogy for the pastor who, along with eight of his parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were brutally murdered by a white supremacist. It is here, in June 2015, that Dyson credits Obama will perhaps finally finding his black voice. Obama's delving into traditional African-American preacher cadences, language, and beliefs - and his impromptu singing of a few lines of the hymn Amazing Grace - brought out the blackness of the man who had been working so hard to balance it with his responsibilities as President for so long.Whether you agree with Dyson or not, you'll find yourself greatly informed by his discussions no matter which perspective - black or white - you enter the fray.[I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway]

  • Ted
    2019-02-23 13:38

    Not the book I was expecting it to be, but that was a pleasant surprise. Rather than touting all the great things Obama achieved politically and symbolically, Dyson turns out to be a critic. Among other things, he takes the former president to task for his scolding of black fathers and placing the onus of responsibility for change on the black community rather than acknowledging the larger responsibility of the white community. But he also shines a light on the subtle ways in which the president shifted and tried to do what some in the black community were expecting of him. I felt the window opening and fresh air rush in as Dyson described Mr. Obama's "Amazing Grace" moment. I found Dyson's perspective to be both interesting and informative.

  • Michael Blackmer
    2019-03-03 07:34

    My rating for this book may yet change as I am still contemplating much of what I have read in this book. I neither whole-heartedly agree or disagree with the author on some of the things he has presented here. Having said this I do agree with my whole heart that the American people need to learn to see each other first and foremost as American people and only secondarily as black, brown, native or white. We need to stand for each other so no one group of us falls alone. This is likely only my first read among many dealing with the race issue in America (and North America).

  • Nicole
    2019-02-25 12:45

    Good readGood read. A lot to take in directly. I brought audible to read while driving in traffic. Love the man but expected more from his politics. I thought I was the only one who felt he chastise the black baby and pampered the white one.

  • Christine
    2019-03-14 09:54

    I listened to it via audio. it was a lot of information that I hadn't thought about before now. I can't say that I agree with all of the negative things he said but I understand that we all have different views. I'm really glad I listened to it.

  • Marlene
    2019-02-22 10:52

    Originally published at Reading RealityI chose to review The Black Presidency this week for two reasons. One is the obvious, February is Black History Month. The second is less obvious. This week is the week of the Presidents Day compromise holiday, the Monday between Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday. To review a book about the first black president in the week between holidays celebrating one president who owned people who looked like this president and a later president who freed those slaves and made this presidency possible (whether he personally could have imagined it or not) seemed like serendipitous timing.There is also another factor. To this reader, so much of the criticism aimed at President Obama smacks of racism, whether those critics intend it to or not. Certainly, to this reader, the groundswell of hatred feels like it has racism at its dark heart.The kind of identity politics that uses this president as a representative of an under-represented class in public life is not new. It is also not over. Barring an unforeseen tragedy, the Democratic party will either nominate the first woman to lead a major political party ticket or the first Jew to do so. Women have previously, but not often, campaigned in the primaries but have never headed their party’s ticket. Likewise, no non-Christian has ever headed a major party ticket. For that matter, there has only been one non-Protestant president, John F. Kennedy.The Presidency of the United States has been the ultimate “glass-ceiling” job, and it has been historically difficult for anyone not fitting a particular mold – male, white, Protestant – to reach that Oval Office. So one of the things I was looking for in The Black Presidency was to read more about how race and racism have affected Barack Obama’s presidency, to perhaps learn something about the ways that sexism or anti-Semitism will rear their ugly heads in the campaign, and possibly the presidential term, to come.Back to this book. The author is looking through the lens of representation, in all its multiple definitions. Because whether he wills it or not, Barack Obama has become both a prominent face of Black America and the face of America. And while the first part of that equation will have some resonance forever, the second is specific to his presidency. Next January, a new president will be sworn in and someone else will become the face of America to the world.At the same time, like anyone who is a member of an underrepresented or non-dominant group, Barack Obama is supposed to serve as a representative of his group to the broader community, and to represent his group’s interests to that broader community. Anyone who has ever been the only person of their kind in a particular setting has a teeny, tiny taste of what this feels like. To be the only woman in a group of men, particularly in technology, is one example. To be the only Jew in a group of Christians can also make one feel a bit like Daniel in that lion’s den.So the author is evaluating Obama’s presidency through how he has reacted, particularly what he has said and done, in relationship to all of these axes. It has had an effect on how he has presented himself, in the stereotypical images he has consistently tried to avoid. It has had an effect on how he addresses the black community, and what policies he proposes that do or do not affect that community. It has certainly had an effect in the way that people see him and interpret his actions.Escape Rating B+: I found this book to be on the one-hand, well-rounded, in that it attempts to look at as many of Obama’s actions and speeches through the lens of representation and representational politics as possible. It is not intended as a study of all of the President’s actions, or of actions that do not or possibly could not relate to race. At the same time, it is admittedly difficult to view this president without at least contending with the way that some portions of the population are either using race as the only way they see him, or are pretending that they are not seeing race at all.And it is impossible in the U.S. not to see race. A point that is also explored in the book.This is not, however a complete political biography of the 44th president, nor is it intended to be. And I’ll admit that I was hoping to see more about the way that others view him and the way that those issues have continually buffeted his administration. Because while the axes will change, I think that the buffeting will repeat if either of the potential Democratic Party candidates becomes the next President.

  • Jeffrey A Grenz
    2019-03-19 08:39

    Very Interesting ReadAs a white American, undoubtedly under-appreciative of black American life and experience, I mostly enjoyed the perspective and insight of an African-American writer critiquing our first African-American president.At certain points in his book, I thought Mr. Dyson was too harsh in his assessments of President Obama's performance as a spokesperson and advocate for African-Americans; his outrage over the president's criticisms of black failures of responsibility within certain segments of their communities while failing to equally criticize continuing individual, systemic, institutional white bigotry and racism missed an important political point. Had President Obama taken white racists and racism to task, the backlash he would have suffered would probably have stopped his political agenda and policies in their tracks and mired his terms in office in an unending defense of any such comments and observations he might have made. I write this in no way as a denial of the continuing, pernicious racism that exists in this country. It is, instead, a recognition of the fact that President Obama is not a black leader in the same vein as Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, or John Lewis. Those men, for the most part, were leaders of a movement of an oppressed people, operating outside, while engaging with, the country's political system. President Obama is the embodiment of our political system. As such, he is obliged to represent all the American people, not merely advocate for a particular segment of the population. The president might have called on white Americans to open their hearts and let go of their fear, prejudice, even hatred of black Americans. Those who would be open to such a calling, I suspect, have already largely let go of these toxic emotions. For the rest, an appeal of that sort, coming from a black president, would be met with only anger and resentment.Perhaps he should have tempered or resisted making his comments on African-American shortcomings, but I assume he thought it important enough that any reticence he felt was overcome by what he viewed as am important issue to address. I am not cynical enough to believe the president made such comments in the vain hope of scoring political points. Nor, I should point out, does the author make such a claim.Mr. Dyson also failed to take an accounting of the president's heritage. He was born in Hawaii, a state hardly caught up in the tensions and violence of the civil rights movement of the mid twentieth century. His mother was white. His father was Kenyan and absent from his life. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents. He grew up with few other African-Americans. I would think it would be difficult for a man from such a background to be fully empathetic to the experience of African-Americans who grew up with Jim Crow and the pernicious racism of an America an ocean away. And the voluntary absence of his father might well have felt like abandonment to the young Barack Obama. It would not be beyond the realm of possibility that Obama's angry words regarding the issue of absent black fathers came from a place of personal pain.As I said in opening, I am white, and because of that fact, I cannot experience the presidency of Barack Obama as an African-American experiences it. That is what made this work important and well worth reading to me. I found Mr. Dyson's writing skills beyond reproach. His mastery of the English language makes the book engaging, thought provoking and challenging to one's passively held point of view. I definitely learned a bit about how our differences of experience, heritage, and history shape our differing perceptions of shared events. I highly recommend this book to anyone with interest in current events, recent history, and especially race relations, racism, and social-political perception and perspective.

  • Shenard Robinson
    2019-03-08 13:44

    As always, Dyson does not disappoint. He argues a clear and succinct interpretation of Obama's legacy as well as the future hope of a "black" presidency in the years to come.

  • James Klagge
    2019-03-19 11:41

    I am a huge fan of Obama, so this was a challenging book to read. It is Dyson's assessment of Obama as a black president. It is by no means a wholly positive assessment. It is extensive and rich. Dyson is an acquaintance, if not quite a personal friend, of Obama. He has studied and extensively quoted all of his speeches that bear on race. And he did a personal interview of Obama. He is connected with many figures in the black intelligentsia, and has even been involved in some of the conflicts within that group over Obama's presidency. So this is not simply the work of a scholar. Indeed, Dyson enjoys mentioning various encounters he has had with Obama and others on significant occasions. The best chapter was the 3rd chapter that discussed Obama in relation to the black church. As a member of a black church myself for over 15 years now, and as a long-time fan of black preaching (especially James Forbes), I felt this was very insightful. Dyson says that Obama's connection to the black church is not much appreciated, and I agree. The conflict over Rev. Jeremiah Wright gave this connection brief and negative publicity. But there is much to be learned here, and it came back on stage in the last chapter when Dyson examined Obama's speech in Charleston in 2015. He considered this the high-point of Obama's black presidency, climaxing with his singing "Amazing Grace" solo. He gives a great analysis of the end of the speech and the timing that led from speech to song and back again. Apparently there was a 13-second silence before Obama broke into song. Asked afterward (p. 332, note 10) whether he was trying during that time to decide whether to sing, Obama responded: "Oh no, I knew I was going to sing. I was just trying to figure out which key to sing it in." Awesome answer! I have been a fan of singing in a sermon (and have done it myself) after hearing James Forbes do that several times. While the book ends on this very positive note, there are many rough spots along the way, in which Dyson is quite critical of Obama's reserve on racial issues, and his tendency to focus on black responsibility rather than white responsibility and social structure. On these issues Dyson is not only a scholar but more of a social critic. It is perhaps this uneasy balance which makes the book a challenge. In Chapter 7 Dyson relates an extensive interview he had with Eric Holder, Attorney General, who mounted a very strong pragmatic defense of Obama's approach to race (in contrast to Dyson's own critique). I appreciated Dyson's inclusion of this material. But his handling of it had the same uneasy balance between scholar and critic. I'm very glad I read this, and I learned a lot--about Obama, and Dyson--that I didn't know. It also brought to bear a lot that I did know to a broader discussion. Still…the book is an uneasy balance of projects.

  • Dave
    2019-02-16 11:55

    Originally published at Book of BoganI had some immediate reservations about reading a book about an American president's term before it has actually finished. Ultimately my fears were largely realised as this book feels unfinished, much like the presidency itself.The Black Presidency is more than just a book about the presidency of Barack Obama, however. It is a wide-reaching analysis of the social and political effect that having an African American man in the White House has had.The book spends a decent amount of time discussing whether - as the son of an immigrant from Kenya and a white mother, who grew up in Hawaii among other places - whether Barack Obama was really the black enough to understand the plight of modern African Americans. It also spends most of its time analysing the anger in the community at how Obama hasn't spent enough time showing the love to his 'folk'.Folk... the author loves this word like a fat kid loves chocolate cake. Folk this, folk that... every time he wants to create a separation between Obama and the people he is supposed to represent, he uses the word 'folk'.As a white middle-class Australian, I doubt that I have much to add to the discussion of the plight of African Americans. But putting aside the fact that Obama is black for a moment, he ran on a platform of hope, and change, ideals which appealed to more than just 'his folk'. He was supposed to bring hope, and change, after 8 long years of war and conservatism under George Bush.And in that, I feel he has failed. Many of the issues which were raised in the book, which spoke to general dissatisfaction with Obama's policies, and failures of leadership, resonated with me. The book seems to be focussed on how Obama has either failed through inaction, or directly betrayed his folk; but as a progressive liberal I don't think it should be limited. But maybe that's just my white privilege talking.As I said at the beginning, I really felt like this book was written several years too soon. It needs some perspective. It is easy to get caught up in the spin cycle, forgetting just how bad the events of previous presidencies might have been in comparison. The book ultimately just peters out, because life itself has not had the conclusion which would result from the end of Obama's presidency.I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.Sadly, I found that the book was lacking the historical perspective it needed, and was too circular in nature.

  • Tamara
    2019-02-19 14:41

    It took me awhile to finish this book and to be prepared for Dyson's critique of President Obama. This President was mine in a way only those familiar with the reality of being invisible in American politics could understand. I'm glad I finished this with only a few weeks left in President Obama's term because I could objectively reflect back on moments where I was disappointed in his leadership and frustrated with his chosen methods of speech toward the problems African-American communities face in America. I needed to better understand this disappointment I felt and to reaquaint myself with Barack Obama's ascendence to national office. Dyson contextualizes the extraordinary candidacy and election of President Obama through a study of American history, black leadership during the Civil Rights Movement and how President Obama and his peers were the "Joshua generation" of black leaders who adopted an approach toward race centered in individualism. Offering pointed examples during his candidacy and presidency, Dyson criticizes Obama's reluctance to speak forcefully on matters concerning race when speaking to whites. Dyson views this to be troubling and further criticizes that the President's strongest positions on race often came at the expense of African-Americans. He uses key moments in Obama's public life, including the 2004 keynote speech, Morehouse graduation speech, and the protest movements that began as a result of police involved shootings to argue how the President's engagement in "respectability politics" was ineffective and did not emphasize the collective role Americans must play in working to address racism and inequality. President Obama had to lead and govern the way he did in order to be an effective Commander-in-Chief. His view of the world and approach may differ from the one activists or scholars like Dyson would take but I welcome the difference. Mostly because it challenges us to critically think about Presidetial power and it's limitations. This critique of the President is a necessary one but I don't think I've arrived at some of the conclusions Dyson has drawn about the President. Dyson's work is a necessary component in the canon of writing that's being done about President Obama and it's a book I'd highly recommend.

  • Jo Stafford
    2019-03-06 13:41

    President Barack Obama is walking a path no one before him has taken: the first African American president of the most powerful nation in world history, a nation scarred by racism. He's been assailed and vilified by the right wing and by racists who can't stomach the thought of a Black man and his family in the White House, the very legitimacy of his presidency questioned by the birthers. As Dyson puts it in his insightful and illuminating book, 'It was a painful paradox: the most powerful man in the world hindered by a thousand cords of racial resentment strung by elected officials and right-wing media'.There are complex reasons why Obama hasn't always been as outspoken on racial matters as, say, Eric Holder or Michelle Obama, but I suspect that his sentiments in private are probably much stronger than his public pronouncements. Dyson skillfully demonstrates how Obama is constrained by the office he holds as the first Black president while at the same time expressing frustration that the president has not spoken out more forcefully more often on matters of racial justice. It's a very fine balancing act that Obama has had to perform, and Dyson criticizes him when he feels that the president has made a misstep. The Black Presidency is more than a friendly critique of Obama's position on race, however. It is a searing indictment of the structural inequalities and racism that condemn African Americans to second-class citizenship and death at the hands of the police. It is also a celebration of Blackness, most beautifully rendered in the last chapter where Dyson examines Obama's moving eulogy for the nine Black victims of a white supremacist's murderous rage in a Charleston, SC church.Dyson's writing is sharp and incisive. His passages on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright made more sense to me than anything else I've read about Wright by placing him in the context of the Black prophetic tradition. This is a thoughtful examination of Barack Obama's presidency and the politics of race. I hope Dyson considers publishing an updated edition when Obama has left the White House.

  • Brian
    2019-02-22 12:57

    Full disclosure: I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway contest.“The Black Presidency” is the most informative book I have read on race, acknowledging that I haven’t read a lot of books on race. It is on a fascinating topic – Barack Obama’s presidency and the topic of race – and Mr. Dyson examines it thoroughly and intelligently.President Obama has found himself in a tough position, between an opposition who has slandered him as a foreign-born Muslim Socialist radical, and blacks and progressives who feel he has been insufficiently supportive to their cause. He has worked to project a calm, even-keeled image in order to avoid appearing like an “Angry Black Man”, while a white president would not have the burden of having to do this. He has in some instances spoken eloquently and intelligently about race – and Dyson dissects a number of these speeches. In other instances his critics have argued that he has not acted as a strong enough advocate for blacks as he should have, because of wanted to appear to be the president for all people and because of wanting to avoid backlash from whites.Mr. Dyson’s study of President Obama is fair and even-handed, in my opinion. He acknowledges the greatness and brilliance of his speeches and his practiced show of composure and equanimity. He points out how outrageous the (often hidden and code-word-based) racism and disrespect toward the President has been. And he also unflinchingly points out where Obama could have done better to be progressive and to be a champion of blacks and others who do not get a fair shake in our society today.Why 4 stars and not 5? While the writing is intelligent and at times has some ornate turns of phrase, at other times I found the analysis plodding. I found the book very informative, but most of the time that I was reading it I was not filled with excitement. Overall, 4 stars may be the most that this topic allows because it is examined with nuance, and nuance is not as exciting to read as a polemic might be.

  • Colleen
    2019-02-16 06:31

    In this book, Michael Eric Dyson explores the racial implications of all aspects of Barak Obama's presidency, from his speech at the 2000 Democratic convention to his eulogy at Rev. Pinckney's memorial service in Charleston. Dyson does a fantastic job chronicling Obama's relationship with black community, culture, and rhetoric. A vocal critic of Obama at times, Dyson is harsh when he needs to be, such as when Obama shamed the black family structure and CBC while still using the speech patterns of the civil rights movement. This book delivers the careful and thorough examination that is needed for a topic as complex as the racial identity and perception of our first black presidentAs always, Dyson's language is entertaining and engaging. However, he sometimes stretches his metaphors too far, taking them from amusing and illustrative 'The "rising tide lifts all boats" approach does not work because some communities lack economic vessels that are seaworthy, and others need help in boatbuilding through access to capital...'[p.159] to strained and cringe-inducing 'Heated intolerance toward Obama's presidency poured from the spouts of the Tea Party. It often tasted like a bitter brew of bigotry that was barely sweetened by claims that their opposition was strictly political and had nothing to do with color. That is had to swallow since...' [p.134-135].However, the main reason I am ranking this book as good but not great is largely due to its organization and length. The frequent subheadings within each chapter cause the book to feel like a series of vignettes instead of a coherent narrative. It is easy to get lost in each episode, which can obscure the main theses of each chapter. The book is also longer than it needs to be. With better organization and editing this book could be more concise and more powerful. *first read giveaway*

  • Max Potthoff
    2019-02-23 11:50

    While I must admit that it was hard to read a spirited criticism of Barack Obama's racial reticence at a time when xenophobia is the new political norm, I still found this book engaging and insightful. Dyson, who is also an ordained preacher, has electric prose that brings energy to the language of critical theory. This book was clearly written under the assumption that Hillary Clinton would now be in office, which makes ending the book with a criticism of Obama's non-diverse appointments, such as Merrick Garland's nomination, much less salient. Mournful, actually, in the sense there is so much noise now that these kind of more insightful and thoughtful critiques have to be put on the back burner to address present dangers.I particularly appreciate how forthcoming Dyson is in terms of bluntly expressing what race is and what race is not. Passages such as, "what is not true about race is the alleged biological input that separates one group from another; what is true about race is that culture and identity are invented in space, and build, or erode, over time. What is not true about race is that the intelligence of members of a group is innate and tied exclusively to a group's genetic structure; what is true about race is that different qualities in a group are born when opportunity marries environment." These kind of passages are enlightening, and allow Dyson to nimbly assess the context of race in America and Obama's legacy. In general, I feel that Obama did the best that he could given the impossible "burden of representation" for which he bore, along with the unprecedented racial animosity that came his way, but I appreciate having read Dyson's analysis, and I feel more informed because of it.