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When Whites Love a Black Leader: Race Matters in Obamerica

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  1. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 1999. “The New Racism: Racial Structure in the United States 1960s–1990s. In Wong, Paul (Ed) Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in the United States: Toward the Twenty-First Century.” Boulder CO. Westview Press. See also: Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2001. “White Supremacy and Racism in the Post Civil Rights Era.” Boulder Co. Lynne Rienner Publishers.

  2. The history of social movements suggests that there is a cycle. As movements become more organized, and clear leaders emerge they are more likely to become successful and more likely to get co-opted.

  3. A partial measure of the depth of Jindal’s political depravity can be inferred from his victory, which relied largely on area’s of the state that largely supported David Duke in 1991 (Cruz 2007). Of course, we are sure that his characterization of Jena 6 protesters as “outside agitators” (Prashad 2007) held some not-so-coded historical resonance for the white electorate, since during the civil rights movement this phrase is how White Citizen’s Councils described movement workers who were “stirring up their negroes.”

  4. In February 2008 Eduardo Bonilla-Silva sent an email to the ABSDiscourse listserve entitled “We Are Still the (Dis)united states of America.” It was subsequently posted on the website Black and Progressive Sociologists For Obama Website. It can be accessed here:

  5. Newspaper reports about some whites supporting Obama highlight his racial transcendence, his non-threatening air, and even his Kenyan father as ways to show how his racial background is different from that of the “traditional” black candidate (Dawson and Bobo 2006). This point is elaborated on later in the text.

  6. As Herman and Peterson (2008) argue, a better analysis of the racial situation in the U.S. is the exhaustive coverage given to the manufactured scandal surrounding Rev. Wright. As they show in exhaustive detail, the tone and sheer volume of coverage are reminiscent of the successful “southern strategy” and the infamous “Willie Horton” affair. The numbers are worth quoting at some length. “For the ninety-six-day period from February 27 through June 1, mentions of Wright’s name in conjunction with Obama’s outnumbered mentions of Hagee’s with McCain’s 10.5 times to 1; they also outnumbered mentions of Parsley’s with McCain’s 40.2 times to 1. Remarkably, even the Reverend Louis Farrakhan’s name turned up in conjunction with Obama’s more frequently than did McCain’s with Hagee’s or Parsley’s—although Obama has had no connection with Farrakhan whatsoever.”.

  7. The New York Times. March 18, 2008. “Barack Obama’s Speech on Race.”

  8. Although Rush Limbaugh, and certain elements of the right have chosen to make the seriousness of the “magical negro” motif into one of their standard and expected racist comments, we maintain that the concept is still useful in understanding how the discourse on Obama’s campaign coming from some quarters is all Kumbaya and white racial absolution. For instance, The New York Times (Bai 2008) has seen the beginning of “The End of Black Politics.”

  9. Obama, Barack. 2007. “Selma Voting Rights Commemoration.” March 4, 2007.

  10. On this the left has been in “silly season.” As Obama clearly pointed out in his New York Times op-ed from July 14, 2008, he is not opposed to the war on terror. He hopes to put “two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.” Needless to say, this is not the stance of an “anti-war” candidate.

  11. Surely it says something about Obama’s views on the primacy of race in shaping social life for blacks that his vice-presidential candidate made one of the most blatently racists gaffs of the primary season. He marveled that Obama was “the first mainstream African–American who is articulate, and bright, and clean and a nice looking guy.” The New York Times. Feburary 1, 2007.

  12. Krieger, Hilary Leila. 2008. “Obama Clarifies United J’lem Comment.” The Jerusalem Post. Jun 6, 2008.

  13. Horton (1998) uses this term to designate people who identify as bi-racial primarily to distance themselves from blackness. The term is fitting in light of Obama’s campaign tactics.


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Correspondence to Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.

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Orwell, George. 1946. “In Front of Your Nose.” In Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian. 1968. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (Volume 4:In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950) New York. Harcourt, Brace & World.

This paper is a slightly amended version of a speech by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva given at the Association of Black Sociologist meeting in Boston in July of 2008. We have attempted to keep the emotion, rhythm, and style of a speech, but for the journal we have added footnotes, citations, and expanded upon some ideas. Lastly, although for ease of reading and rhetorical force we kept the pronouns in the first person, this version is a collaborative project.

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Bonilla-Silva, E., Ray, V. When Whites Love a Black Leader: Race Matters in Obamerica . J Afr Am St 13, 176–183 (2009).

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