Comparative Book Review Stephanie Mckenzie the Black Book Review

Pages: 10 (3037 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Comparative Book Review

Stephanie Mckenzie

The Black Experience

November 22,2009

The Black Experience


The issue of race in the United States is a deeply complex morass of

political, economic, psychological and cultural impressions all tangled

together by a history of deep hatred and oppression. Thus, the fact that

an African American man was elected to the presidency in 2008 is a

critically important moment in American history and one that appears as a

sudden departure from centuries of inequality. However it is more accurate

to contend that this moment came about neither suddenly nor with the

totality of impact suggested. Instead, the texts of Gwen Ifill (2009) and

Alex Haley (1964) both proceed from the perspective that the struggle for

racial equality in the United States is one which continues today and which

is founded on the evolving political identity of African Americans. From

the black separatist movement which Malcolm X used to deliver pride and

unity to African Americans to the political permeation of all races and

cultures by President Barrack Obama, a great deal of political shifting and

social adjustment have occurred to predicate this marked advance. The text

by Ifill, entitled The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of

Obama, remarks upon the political history and various political identity

predating Obama's own fast emergence on the political and culturalDownload full Download Microsoft Word File
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landscape. That by Haley, entitled The Autobiography of Malcolm X,

chronicles the life experiences and philosophical orientation of the bold

Muslim revolutionary who helped to drive forward the cause of African

Americans even while staking out a reputation that Obama has worked to

reverse. The two texts here referenced show that there is a relationship

of both inspiration and reversal between Malcolm X and Barrack Obama that

helps in short to tell the narrative history of African Americans in

electoral politics.

TOPIC: Book Review on Comparative Book Review Stephanie Mckenzie the Black Assignment

Summary of Gwen Ifill's The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of


The day of Barrack Obama's election was a watershed moment in

American history. A nation where African Americans were for hundreds of

years enslaved, segregated and socially isolated would go from the repeal

of Jim Crow to the election of its first African American chief executive

in less than fifty years. For the great many on both sides of an American

racial divide which pits progressive social ideology against the eroding

power of racialist institutionalism, this would be an event signaling

momentous change on the cultural horizon. As the text by Gwen Ifill (2009)

tells, this would be nothing short of a sea change in both politics and

race relations, opening the door for an all-encompassing new reality in


So is this idea expressed early in the Ifill text, which reports that

"Obama is the leading edge of this change, but his success is merely the

ripple in a pond that grows deeper every day. 'When people do something

that they've never done before, I think that makes it easier to do it a

second time,' David Axelrod, the Obama campaign's chief strategist told me

just days after Obama won. 'So when people vote for an African American

candidate, I think it makes it easier for the next African American

candidate." (Ifill, 1) This is a central premise to the whole of the text,

which argues that the Obama election should be viewed both as the

realization of an already advancing pattern in American race relations and

should also be seen as a harbinger of yet more exponential change in this

area as well.

Ifill discusses this idea within the context of African American

electoral history in order to demonstrate the general social and cultural

thrust toward a political scheme in which African Americans could enjoy a

leveling of the playing field. Quite certainly, this remains a difficult

ambition to realize, but it does present a visible thrust toward the

dismantling of old assumptions about race and electoral behavior. A

justified focus is paid, for instance, to the emotionally charged 1984

candidacy of Civil Rights activist and spiritual leader Jesse Jackson and

to the more professionally approached 1988 candidacy of the same man. The

distinction which Ifill notes seems to be with the level of access to white

voters achieved by Jackson across the four year interim. An intercession

of his own rising political cachet and continually eroding psychological

gap for white voters in terms of translating modest racial enlightenment

toward outright political support would change the electoral front for

figures such as Jackson. Ifill points to this as part of a pattern which

ultimately delivered Obama to the right moment in history.

The author contends that other moments in the short but rapid history

of African American electoral visibility in America have demonstrated a

clear trend of improvement. This improvement has not come without its

growing pains such as the oft-discussed Bradley Effect, named "after the

former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, an African American who lost the 1982

race fro California governor to a white man, George Deukmejian, even though

the polls had shown him winning by as much as twenty-two points." (Ifill,

10) The resultant explanation from flustered pollsters would be the

assumption that white voters who had claimed the intention of voting for

Bradley would be betrayed by secretly racist impulses when in the voting

booth, thus pulling a lever for his white opponent. This would produce a

recurrent invocation of the so-called Bradley Effect in the coming years,

with elections such as Jackson's and Obama's prompting analysts and

pollsters to examine apparent voter expectations thusly. This would create

a complex forecasting scenario in which the racist overtones in American

political culture would be somewhat explicitly acknowledged. Though

pundits would couch this acknowledgement in analyses of geographical,

ideological and social terms, it is with little doubt that the development

of a polling theory hinging upon the independent variable of the

candidate's race was a direct recognition that racism continues to play a

part in the fortunes of African American candidates which might contrast

apparent political logic such as is measured by polling.

To Ifill's perspective, and supported by all facts available

regarding the Obama election, the current president would help to dismantle

the viability of this theory. Though one may make the argument-and to an

extent, Ifill does-that the Bradley Effect may never have been a fully

accurate or realistic way of characterizing African American electoral

realities, there is yet the equally compelling argument that the Bradley

Effect was indicative of a phase which is now passed. The differential

between polling and voting trends demonstrated almost thirty years ago

concerning African American candidacy are for the obvious reasons of this

passage in time and the progress of race relations in the U.S. now far less

relevant. In fact, in the 2008 Democratic Primaries where Obama faced his

stiffest competition in a party more than likely to win a national election

with any candidate given the performance of the Republican seated Bush

Administration, he would also face the specter of the Bradley Effect.

There was a valid and pressing concern for the Obama candidacy that the

conservative elements of the Democratic constituency would force the party

to post a safer candidate. However, Obama, Ifill argues, had stepped into

an evolving trend whereby African American candidates were deconstructing

conventional electoral race logic. In the stiffly combative primaries,

"Obama continued that trend. Exit polls showed not only that he

outperformed 2004 nominee John Kerry among white voters but also that those

who made up their minds within the last days-theoretically the secrete,

lying racists of the Bradley effect-voted for him as well. RIP, the

Bradley effect." (Ifill, 11) For all intents and purposes, such moments in

the text help to capture the basic approach taken by the author, who cheers

the Obama election as a triumphant moment for America as a whole,

prefiguring a reflection of Obama's racially neutral ambition and identity.

Summary of Alex Haley's: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Alex Haley channeling of The Autobiography of Malcolm X speaks to

the importance of having this retrospective window into the minds of those

whose aggressive participation in American racial history made them

emotionally or personally elusive in their time and place. With Malcolm X,

whose militant racial posturing, religiously intensified rhetoric and

eventual philosophical alignment with figures such as Martin Luther King

would make him a challenging figure to fully comprehend, the opportunity to

take in his perspective with the benefit of hindsight is compelling and


This is a unique autobiography, composed as it is for its subject

posthumously by author and companion to the subject, Alex Haley. Haley's

interest in maintaining a strict loyalty to the telling of his life story

by Malcolm X is reflected in his first person report on the events of his

life. This helps the characterization of real people to ring especially

true in the work, with early characterizations of Malcolm's family,

particularly his father, and of important figures such as Marcus Garvey

helping to formulate an extremely relatable racial… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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