As President Obama Begins a Second Term, Are We Done Talking About Race?

February 1, 2013

—Wellesley College professor publishes a groundbreaking book, Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America

Wellesley, Mass., February 1, 2013 – This February, a new book promises to fill a void in the ever-present conversation about America’s first black President.

To date, other books on Obama have emphasized the extraordinary details of his personal and political record, but Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America (Stanford University Press), by sociologist and Wellesley College professor Michael P. Jeffries, takes an entirely new approach. Instead, Paint the White House Black presents Obama’s presidency as a way to reach understanding of how race works in America.

“Racial language can be inflammatory and inadequate; outbursts and silences disguise its relationships with a host of other phenomena. But ignorance, avoidance, and silence will never lead us into the clear,” writes Jeffries. The goal of Paint the White House Black is to use Obama’s rise to talk about race sensibly, with respect for its complexities and in concert with other social forces, such as class, gender, nation, and family. Obama’s presidency thus serves as a powerful teaching tool—because the President is part of a shared experience, he offers common ground for readers to think and talk clearly about race.

Paint the White House Black presents compelling questions, and provides in-depth research and analysis of historically-rooted conceptions of race and nationhood:

  • Race, nation, and inheritance: What does it mean to view Obama’s individual triumph as a sign of an entire nation’s progress?
  • Michelle Obama as Superwoman: How can a seeming compliment mask perilous stereotypes and public perceptions?
  • Do people of mixed racial heritage view the president as a symbol of their identity—or even, as a leader of a new movement?”

Paint the White House Black invites readers to consider how race operates in our daily lives, because according to Jeffries, "The only way out of the muck and mess of racial misunderstanding is to force ourselves to think about race in concert with other ideas that are important to us.”

Michael P. Jeffries is the Sidney R. Knafel Assistant Professor of American Studies at Wellesley College. He studies race, gender, politics, identity, and popular culture and teaches courses on race and politics, hip-hop studies, and the sociology of sports. He is the author of Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop (University of Chicago Press, 2011) and a frequent contributor to The Atlantic and The Guardian.

About Wellesley College
Since 1875, Wellesley College has been the preeminent liberal arts college for women. Known for its intellectual rigor and its remarkable track record for the cultivation of women leaders in every arena, Wellesley—only 12 miles from Boston—is home to some 2300 undergraduates from every state and 75 countries.

To request interviews with the author or a review copy of Paint the White House Black:

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