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Visiting Speaker Series

Visiting Speaker Series

 

 What We Wanted: Recovering from the Obama Era

 

Paul Taylor

Pennsylvania State University

 

When Barack Hussein Obama became the President of the United States of America, observers around the world and across the political spectrum decided that an old era was ending and a new one was dawning. Many of these people, particularly among US conservatives, took this as an occasion for lamentation. Many more, particularly among US progressives and African Americans, took it as a reason for celebration. But both supporters and critics seemed to agree: Mr. Obama’s election meant that things would be different, in ways that would require new vocabularies, sensibilities, and practices.

The idea of a world-historical "Obama moment" no longer resonates in the way it once did. The world's determination to go on largely as before has left many of the president's supporters chastened and many of his critics encouraged. But this empirical complication does not foreclose the philosophical questions that attend the novelty of this administration. Mr. Obama remains the first president to identify (plausibly) as black, to take office after the controversial and bellicose Bush-Cheney administration, and to reckon systematically with the global consequences of a deindustrialized and hyper-financialized US economy. And this litany of firsts raises a number of essentially philosophical questions.

Does Mr. Obama's ascension to the presidency mean that the US has become post-racial? Does his ability to win despite his indifference to the traditional rituals of black politics testify to the maturation of post-civil rights politics? Will the multiple global crises on his plate make him our first post-imperial president? And do his explicit gestures at the practices of public justification—after the Bush administration’s eager subordination of facts and evidence to power and politics—make him not just post-partisan and post-ideological, as some have claimed, but also post-relativist?

In this talk, I will explore Mr. Obama's meanings for US racial politics. This will not mean evaluating his effectiveness as a politician or statesman, or measuring the gap between his campaign promises and his administration’s policies. It will mean taking seriously the impulse behind the thought that we've become post-racial, and considering the warrant for this impulse in light of what we know about how race works.

  

Friday, October 3rd, 7 p.m.

Lord Lounge, Afrikan Heritage House

Co-sponsored by Africana Studies, Philosophy, and Politics

 

More about Paul Taylor