In this incisive and unflinching study, Randall Kennedy, author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, tackles another stigma of America's racial discourse: “selling out.” He explains the origins of the concept and shows how fear of this label has haunted prominent members of the black community—including, most recently, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Barack Obama. Sellout also contains a rigorously fair case study of America's quintessential racial “sellout”—Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In the book's final section, Kennedy recounts how he himself has dealt with accusations of being a sellout after meeting fierce criticism at Harvard upon the publication of his book, Nigger .
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: Sellout|
|Release Date: 01-08-2008|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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Chapter One: Who Is "Black"?
"How difficult it sometimes is to know where the black begins and the white ends."
—Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (1901)
Soon after declaring his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, Senator Barack Obama was asked on the television program 60 Minutes when he had "decided" that he was black. One of the reasons the interviewer posed this question is that Obama's mother was a white American and his father a black Kenyan. Obama, moreover, had had little contact with his father; he was raised mainly in Hawaii by his mother and her relatives, in settings far afield from conventional black American communities. Against this backdrop, some observers have questioned Obama's racial standing. "Obama isn't black," the journalist Debra J. Dickerson asserts, because "in our political and social reality [black] means those descended from West African slaves." Rather, Dickerson continues, "by virtue of his white American mom and his Kenyan dad . . . [Obama] is an American of African immigrant extraction."
Obama responded to the question on 60 Minutes by distancing himself from the idea that he had "decided" to be black. He focused on three other considerations: his appearance, the response of onlookers to his appearance, and his shared experience of those responses with others also perceived to be "black." "[I]f you look African American in this society," he remarked, "you're treated as an African American." In 1940, W. E. B. DuBois quipped that "the black man is a person who must ride 'Jim Crow' in Geor