The Substance of Hope

The Substance of Hope

Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress

Book - 2010
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For acclaimed historian William Jelani Cobb, the historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency is not the most remarkable development of the 2008 election; even more so is the fact that Obama won some 90 percent of the black vote in the primaries across America despite the fact that the established black leadership since the civil rights era--men like Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Andrew Young, who paved the way for his candidacy--all openly supported Hillary Clinton. Clearly a sea change has occurred among black voters, ironically pushing the architects of the civil rights movement toward the periphery at the moment when their political dreams were most fully realized.
How this has happened, and the powerful implications it holds for America's politics and social landscape, is the focus of The Substance of Hope , a deeply insightful, paradigm-shifting examination of a new generation of voters that has not been shaped by the raw memory of Jim Crow and has a different range of imperatives. Cobb sees Obama's ascendancy as "a reality that has been taking shape in tiny increments for the past four decades," and examines thorny issues such as the paradox and contradictions embodied in race and patriotism, identity and citizenship; how the civil rights leadership became a political machine; why the term "postracial" is as iniquitous as it is inaccurate; and whether our society has really changed with Obama's election.
Elegantly written and powerfully argued, The Substance of Hope challenges conventional wisdom as it offers original insight into America's future.

Publisher: New York : Walker & Company, c2010
Edition: 1st. U.S. ed
ISBN: 9780802717399
Branch Call Number: 305.896 COBB
Characteristics: 191 p. ; 22 cm


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Oct 08, 2011

This book by a history professor at Spelman College is insightful. Professor Cobb is not a neutral observer - he went doorknocking for Obama and also was a delegate to the national Democratic convention - and yet he writes candidly.

Cobb identifies the Obama campaign as a brilliant campaign against cynicism. The campaign, in essence, reframed white concerns about voting for a black man by reassuring them that their doubts weren't racist, they were just cynical because the white voter doubted America would elect Obama. Obama had to fight the cynicism of both the black and white voters about his electability but he thought he could do that.

The campaign motto "Change You Can Believe In" was open to interpretation. One possible interpretation, according to Cobb, was that it was an effort to reassure African American voters that Obama would survive his election and actually live to serve as President.

Much was made during the campaign of Obama's biracial heritage. Cobb correctly points out that the vast majority of African Americans could be legitimately considered biracial since interracial sex (forced & voluntary) were a part of this nation from the beginning. So people can rest comfortable with Obama's identification as being black, rather than insisting on being called biracial all the time.

Virtually all the traditional civil rights leaders were either clergy or attended black colleges or both but that's not true of the new African American leaders who are more likely to have attended Ivy League schools. But up until 2008, black clergy and black political leaders -who were basically the last of the ethnic political machines - were effective in turning out votes. Obama's campaign largely bypassed that machine and won anyway. Cobb believes Obama's victory signaled the end of the influence of the old guard civil rights leaders.

Cobb writes that immigrants who come from countries where bribery and corruption were routine, where housing was rudimentary, where education was brief, and the ability to rise above one's class was limited often have big dreams about their potential in America. Obama, Cobb believes, had a similar experience from living in Indonesia for some years as a child and thus he didn't have the same degree of cynicism many African Americans have had about the chances of achieving their dreams.

In India, Cobb wrote, one group of people have been at the bottom of their caste system for 1400 years. Battles between Sunni & Shia have raged for more than a millennium. In Eastern Europe, the Roma people have been persecuted for more than 6 centuries. But in the U.S., the time from slavery to President Obama is 144 years. The author mentions a 106-year-old woman whose parents were slaves; her president is Barack Obama. These are stunning facts.


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