Racial Justice in the Age of Obama

Racial Justice in the Age of Obama

Racial Justice in the Age of Obama

Racial Justice in the Age of Obama


With the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, the issue of racial justice in America occupies center stage. Have black Americans finally achieved racial justice? Is government intervention no longer required? Racial Justice in the Age of Obama considers contemporary civil rights questions and theories, and offers fresh insights and effective remedies for race issues in America today.

While there are now unprecedented opportunities for talented African Americans, Roy Brooks shows that lingering deficiencies remain within the black community. Exploring solutions to these social ills, Brooks identifies competing civil rights theories and perspectives, organizing them into four distinct categories--traditionalism, reformism, limited separation, and critical race theory. After examining each approach, Brooks constructs the best civil rights theory for the Obama phase of the post-civil rights era. Brooks supports his theoretical model with strong statistics that break down the major racial groups along such demographics as income and education. He factors in the cultural and structural explanations for the nation's racial divisions, and he addresses affirmative action, the failures of integration, the negative aspects of black urban culture, and the black community's limited access to resources. The book focuses on African Americans, but its lessons are relevant for other groups, including Latinos, Asians, women, and gays and lesbians.

Racial Justice in the Age of Obama maps out today's civil rights questions so that all groups can achieve equality at a time of unprecedented historical change.


Many of my wintry evenings in the early 1970s were warmed by heated discussions of civil rights theory with my fellow law students at Yale Law School. We met regularly in the law school cafeteria after dinner, usually after Eric Sevaried's commentary on the cbs Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Our civil rights version of the Metaphysical Club—that nineteenth-century conversational club whose membership boasted a young Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James, Charles Sanders, and other Harvard students who helped shape philosophical thought for twentieth-century America—held court at a table near the center window facing the Grove Street side of the law school quadrangle. We often referred to this table as the “Black Table.” That label pertained to the topic of discussion—civil rights theory, especially matters regarding racial justice—and to the fact that African American or black (I use the terms interchangeably) students initiated and carried the discussion. the Black Table, unlike the Metaphysical Club, was neither single-race nor single-sex in its membership. White students were welcomed at the table, and, in fact, some (e.g., Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham) took an occasional seat there. Most white students, including my classmate Sam Alito, simply passed by the table or sometimes looked on with bemused curiosity rather than join in the discussion.

The black students who sat at the table were not monolithic. Clarence Thomas was the contrarian of the group. If someone said it was nighttime, he would argue it was daytime, just for the hell of it. Harry Singleton was persistently conservative and prideful. Lani Guinier was more liberal than either Gil Hardy, Guy Cole, Russ Frisby, or myself. Frank Washington, Tap Taplin iii, and Rufus Comier were hard to pin down. But all were extremely bright and very respectful of opposing points of view. All brought considerable food for thought to the table based not only upon a common core of readings (anchored by the works of W.E.B. DuBois) and deep reflection but also upon a personal understanding of the black experience. Each of us had experienced racism and, as a result, knew that the opportunities we were given were precious. Knowing that may have helped fuel the passion with which we addressed the issues. Indeed, a full range of theoretical perspectives were vigorously presented and debated. the Black Table was not a liberal or conservative table; it was a scholar's table, a truth-seeking table. We disagreed routinely, but almost as often conceded opposing arguments. We did not just have opposing opinions; we also had knowledge and integrity, which enabled us to walk away from the table as friends and remain friends to this day.

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