How a Black Man Won the Presidency in 2008: the Shifting Meaning of Race in the Political Culture of the USA

Beachill, Mark James (2016) How a Black Man Won the Presidency in 2008: the Shifting Meaning of Race in the Political Culture of the USA. Doctoral thesis, University of Sunderland.

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Abstract

The US presidential election of 2008 was considered a milestone for blacks and race in the USA. However, despite the considerable attention given to the election, it has not been placed in historical and political context. In particular, contemporary assumptions about the importance of the symbolism of a black president and about how the election tested the racial outlook of whites pervade the literature. Prior vigorously contested ideas such as equality, discrimination and integration were largely unconsidered during the election and with the Obama victory. This research attempts to bring out why race, considered predominantly through representation and identity, raised considerable energies among the electorate, examining the themes of “hope” and “change”, and the online campaign. To establish exactly what the election was reacting to, the thesis attempts a historical reconstruction of race: first, by working through a critique of realignment theory as the predominant academic view of electoral processes, then through an examination of how whiteness figured as a means to resolve class and related conflicts from the late-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, and finally examining how whiteness was consolidated through post-war suburbanisation. This reconstruction moves past the idea of race as psychological phenomenon or as a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. The thesis then analyses the turnaround on race and why race was posed without reference to equality in 2008 through looking at both the idea of white racial bases and of identity politics. We conclude that the meaning of race in its post-war sense is largely absent in the contemporary USA suggesting that a politics of suburban interests better explains post-civil rights developments than race. We show how the politics of identity, so evident in the election, has been unable to raise issues of equality to address the enormous racial divisions in the USA today.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Culture > History and Politics
Divisions: Collections > Theses
Depositing User: Barry Hall
Date Deposited: 23 Nov 2016 16:32
Last Modified: 08 Mar 2017 19:14
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/6819

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