Between Barack and a hard place : racism and white denial in the age of Obama

by Tim J. Wise

Paper Book, 2009




San Francisco : City Lights Books, 2009.


"For many people, the election of Barack Obama seems to signify the end of racism as a pervasive social force in the United States: they point to Obama as a validation of the American ideology that anyone can make it if they work hard, and an example of how barriers against people of color have all but vanished. But is this true? After all, in housing, employment, the justice system and education, the evidence is clear: white privilege and discrimination against people of color are still operative and actively thwarting opportunities, despite the success of individuals like Obama.""Is black success making it harder for whites to see the problem of racism, thereby further straining race relations, or will it challenge stereotypes to such an extent that racism will diminish? Will blacks in power continue to be seen as an "exception"? Is Obama "acceptable" because he seems "different than most blacks," who are still viewed too often as the dangerous and inferior "others"? In this provocative new book, Tim Wise explores how the election of Barack Obama is taking the race debates to new levels."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member JasonSmith
The best Caucasian writer to focus on the white supremacy that is still embedded in all aspects of American life is at it again with a great series of essays that deal with the issues of race that have come up around the election of Barack Obama. The book is filled with scary statistics, for instance, black high school graduates actually have higher unemployment rates that white dropouts, and white males with a criminal record are more likely than black males without one to be called back for a job interview, and black women are 9 times more likely to be searched for drugs coming through customs even though white women are twice as likely to be caught with drugs. Mostly though it focuses on the myth of meritocracy and the dangers of thinking that we’ve reached any sort of post-racial United States.… (more)
LibraryThing member ariahfine
This is a short (140 pages) book packed full of clear arguments and plenty of facts, statistics and research, about the state of race and racism in the United States. Wise juxtaposes much of what he discusses against the backdrop of Obama's election.
It's slightly academic in tone, but very readable and the cold hard facts that fill the pages are stunning. Definitely worth a read.… (more)
LibraryThing member csweder
After reading Wise's White Like Me, I was unsure that I wanted to read another of his books, but I am glad that I did. This book is the combination of two essays on race in America, particularly related to the 2008 election of our first person of color to the office of the President.

This was a good read, and quick and easy. I leave you with one quote to ponder:

"Confrontin racism is white folks' responsibility because even though we, in the present, are not to blame for the system we have inherited, the fact is, we have inherited it nonetheless, and continue to benefit, consciously or not, from the entrenched privileges that are the legacy of that system."
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LibraryThing member greeniezona
I was quite happy when this book popped up on my paperbackswap wish list. I started reading it fairly soon after receiving it in the mail, stealing a few minutes here and there to read, often on the walk to work. Then, the train trip to Kalamazoo (for our fall OMA meeting) afforded me the chance to plunge through the rest of the book, fighting back tears in the Kalamazoo train station as I waited for Debbie to pick me up, as I read about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and finished the book.

As always, I found Tim Wise's writing to be insightful and incredibly informative. I had really been yearning for Wise's analysis of the racial issues surrounding Obama's election, and it was wonderful to have Wise not just validate all my uncomfortableness with some of the stupid crap people kept saying by laying those same issues out, but to have him really dig deep into exactly what made them so awful and wrong.

At times it felt like I was bookmarking every other page, and many quotes theories and anecdotes made their way into my conversations in the following weeks. I could go on and on about why I find the writings of this white anti-racism activist refreshing, but instead I filled my reading journal with a list of page references to quotes and arguments that I wanted to be able to refer back to. Normally, I just write the entire quotes. But with this book? There were too many and too long and it would have taken an age. Though I do want to record this one quote, which is a lovely statement on the book as a whole:... I have come to realize something: namely, even with Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States, we will still need a back-up plan. For Obama cannot be relied upon, any more so than any other president or national leader, to shepherd our nation out of the wilderness of racism and inequality. The job is too great, and the single solitary man too small for such an effort. Which is to say that if we want the job done right, we're going to have to do it ourselves, all of us.
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