Randall Kennedy has been a contributing editor of the Prospect since 1995. He is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University and is completing a book on race relations and the Obama presidency.
Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X is a significant and poignant cultural event because of its subject, its purpose, and the recent tragic death of its author, the founder of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. Marable worked on this biography for more than two decades, struggling in recent years with a severe illness that in 2010 required a double lung transplant. Only days before the book's publication, Professor Marable passed away. His commitment to scholarship even in the face of sickness and death is inspiring.
"Race talk" has occupied a contradictory place in Barack Obama's political strategy. On the one hand, Obama has made it newly salient. The speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 that elevated him to political stardom focused on his vision of reconciliation, racial and otherwise: "There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America," Obama declared, "there's the United States of America." The single speech for which he has been most lauded was his "A More Perfect Union" March 2008 address in Philadelphia, delivered to quell the uproar over his relationship with the incendiary Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
President Barack Obama talks with former President Bill Clinton. (White House Photo/Pete Souza)
One of the most notable accomplishments of liberalism over the past 20 years is something that didn't happen: the demise of affirmative action. Contrary to all predictions, affirmative action has survived. This is a triumph not only for race relations but also for the liberal vision of an inclusive society with full opportunity for all.
In racial matters, good news from the Supreme Court is generally no news. Since at least the mid-1970s, the Court has been mostly inhospitable to those seeking to advance progressive racial policies through litigation. That is why civil-rights activists often deliberately keep potentially far-reaching cases away from the High Court. In a revealing episode in 1997, for example, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other organizations, rather than risk an adverse judgment by the justices, pooled hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay the settlement costs demanded by a white schoolteacher who had initiated a reverse-discrimination lawsuit.