President Obama and the Burden of Race

Audio Q&A with American historian Thomas Sugrue

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

By Peter Nichols

In his new book, Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race, historian Thomas Sugrue says of the president, "He came of age as part of a generation of African-descended Americans who found opportunities unimaginable only a few decades earlier, but who also lived in a society when, at the same time, many of the measures of racial inequality worsened."

"Obama was shaped in a moment when ideas about race in America were really in flux and up for grabs." – Tom Sugrue

Sugrue is the David Boies Professor of History and a specialist in 20th-century American politics, urban history, civil rights and race. His books include Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North and The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.

In this audio Q&A, Sugrue talks about the paradox of race in America, the meaning of Obama's presidency and some of the ways the president bears the burden of race.

How has Barack Obama's life connected with the shifting realities of race in late 20th-century America? 

Is President Obama's election the realization of Martin Luther King's dream of racial equality? 

In what sense is the storm of debate and denunciation unleashed by the president's mere mention of race part of the past that isn't past? 

What socioeconomic measures best illustrate how race plays out today? 

Are there signs that America is overcoming its past in regard to racial injustice and moving toward "a more perfect union?"