Still Divisible by Race?

From the sidelines, I watch the conflict over identity politics play out. Sometimes Princeton’s Cornel West or Tavis Smiley face off with one of my favorite talking heads, Melissa Harris-Perry (Melissa Harris-Lacewell) formerly on the Princeton faculty, now at Tulane.

Then I read yesterday’s New York Times with Dwight Garner’s review of “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency” by Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy (Princeton, Class of 1977). Again, my interest was piqued. Entitled “One Nation, Still Divisible by Race,” Garner’s review praises the book as seeming “to be carved from intellectual granite.”

Garner likes how Kennedy hashes “through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently ‘voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama,’ Mr. Kennedy quotes, with seeming approval, (the headline of Harris-Lacewell’s essay on TheRoot.com which asked), ‘Who Died and Made Tavis King?’

“Mr. Kennedy has special scorn for the (white) Princeton professor Sean Wilentz, a Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter who, during the 2008 campaign, the author writes, ‘was persistently tendentious, casting in the worst light the possible motives of Obama and his backers.'”

I’m most curious to find out what Kennedy says about Harris-Perry, who often accepted invitations at events co-sponsored by Not in Our Town and the Princeton Public Library.

Kennedy’s book goes on sale on August 16, and perhaps it will be a future choice for the African American Interest Book Group that meets at Barnes & Noble. Led by Barbara Flythe, a retired public school educator and diversity consultant, it meets on fourth Mondays at the Market Fair at 7 p.m. For the fall discussion schedule, which also includes the memoir by NPR’s Michelle Norris, click here.

The August book is by Douglas A. Blackman. He was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal when he explored “the possibility of a story asking a provocative question: What would be revealed if American corporations were examined through the same sharp lens of historical confrontation as the one then being trained on German corporations that relied on Jewish slave labor during World War II and the Swiss banks that robbed victims of the Holocaust of their fortunes?”

The Pulitzer Prize- winning book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, is cited as “a groundbreaking historical expose of this shameful era in American history……which unearths the lost stories of the thousands of slaves and their descendants who were forced by political, social, racist, and economic pressures into involuntary servitude and poverty.”

(The next NIOT co-sponsored event at the Princeton Public Library, also cosponsored by the Latin American Legal Defense Fund, will be the screening of the documentary “Light in the Darkness” on Monday, September 12. The documentary, produced by the national NIOT, airs on PBS nationwide on September 21.)

Note that Not in Our Town Princeton hosts “Continuing Conversations on Race” at the Princeton Public Library on first Mondays at 7:30 p.m.

Photo: The two Barbaras (Barbara Flythe and I) were snapped at a United Front Against Riverblindness benefit.

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