Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America

Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America

Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America

Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America

Synopsis

Why have American policies failed to reduce the racial inequalities still pervasive throughout the nation? Has President Barack Obama defined new political approaches to race that might spur unity and progress? Still a House Divided examines the enduring divisions of American racial politics and how these conflicts have been shaped by distinct political alliances and their competing race policies. Combining deep historical knowledge with a detailed exploration of such issues as housing, employment, criminal justice, multiracial census categories, immigration, voting in majority-minority districts, and school vouchers, Desmond King and Rogers Smith assess the significance of President Obama's election to the White House and the prospects for achieving constructive racial policies for America's future.


Offering a fresh perspective on the networks of governing institutions, political groups, and political actors that influence the structure of American racial politics, King and Smith identify three distinct periods of opposing racial policy coalitions in American history. The authors investigate how today's alliances pit color-blind and race-conscious approaches against one another, contributing to political polarization and distorted policymaking. Contending that President Obama has so far inadequately confronted partisan divisions over race, the authors call for all sides to recognize the need for a balance of policy measures if America is to ever cease being a nation divided.


Presenting a powerful account of American political alliances and their contending racial agendas, Still a House Divided sheds light on a policy path vital to the country's future.

Excerpt

The United Church of Christ takes as its motto John 17:21, “That They May All Be One.” The UCC was created in 1957 through the union of the Congregational Christian Churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Its theological roots are in the Calvinism of the early New England Puritans and Congregationalists who did so much to shape American political culture. As with its Congregationalist forebears, all its local churches have autonomy in matters of doctrine and ministry, so that the UCC describes itself as a pluralistic and diverse denomination that strives to achieve “unity within its diversity.”

The quest for such unity amidst diversity runs deeply through American history. On the birthday of the nation, July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized a committee comprising John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to recommend a design for a Great Seal of the United States, then declaring their independence. The committee proposed as the seal’s national motto a similar phrase: “E Pluribus Unum”—“Out of many, one.”

The leaders of America’s founding generation knew well that of all the challenges they faced, slavery and racial equality most profoundly threatened their efforts to make the aspiration expressed in the new national motto a reality. In response, many strove mightily in ensuing years to keep those issues as remote from the national agenda as possible. But four score and two years later, an Illinois lawyer with high political aspirations, Abraham Lincoln, invoked a different biblical passage, Matthew 12:25, to argue that when it came to slavery, policies of evasion and compromise could not long endure: “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

After he did so, the American house did indeed break apart in a massive civil war. At its end, the United States purged slavery throughout the land by constitutional amendment. Still, convulsive issues of racial policy and racial equality remained. Nearly a century later, when the United Church of Christ was created, Congress was in the throes of passing the 1957 Civil Rights Act . . .

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