Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity
This essay will discuss and examine the major themes associated with the novel Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity by author Ian Reifowitz. Themes discussed will focus on a brief history of American national identity including radical multiculturalism, Obama’s search for his own identity and his views on the manner, and President Obama’s vision on American national identity. My opinions and other outside sources will be incorporated into this essay.
As the author mentioned, American national identity is as unique as being American itself. At the formation of our nation with a document forged by Thomas Jefferson The Declaration of Independence, at the time it written eloquently demanded the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The problem with this document was that it was only exclusive to some, mainly white Anglo - Saxon males. Groups such as African Americans, women, and Native Americans were not inclusive of these rights in a new American society. In fact it has been documented that the words originally drafted in the early stages of the declaration by Jefferson stated “the rights of life, liberty, and property” a line borrowed form 17th century philosopher John Locke’s “Two Treaties of Government” but was later changed to “pursuit of happiness” for a broader understanding. African Americans and women had no legal standing to be inclusive as it pertain to this document due to slavery and women's no existed rights under the husband. Both of these groups were regarded as property in the beginnings of our nation.
Since then, many of these rights have grown to include individuals of other ethnic groups mainly through Supreme Court decision cases, congressional legislation, and the process of amendment to the U.S. Constitution. From the 1960s through the 1990s a battle on principles within the progressive movement ensued through Universalist Liberalism vs Radical Multiculturalism. Universalist Liberalism beliefs were rooted in “individual liberty, equal rights, and cross-ethinc integration and cooperation” as mentioned in the text while multiculturalism was rooted in cultural diversity, a premise of acceptance of ALL cultural normality and formation.
The text describes this as ethnic-based identity politics and “politics whereby the interests of one’s ethnic group took precedence over either the common good or any broader, universal principles, including the aforementioned liberal ones”. A prime example of this shared view could be considered through community political leaders such as the likes of Malcolm X within the African American community, who advocated for the rights of blacks and at one point the separation of black and white Americans against broader calls for integration. This is evident in his 1964 The Ballot or the Bullet speech where he stated “The political philosophy of black nationalism means that the black man should control the politics and the politicians in his own community; no more” the text also describes this as identity politics based factions. Another example of this is the Christian Right movement in the 1980s. The “Religious” Right used respect for their beliefs in exchange for respect for others diversity.
The text describes that by the 1990s a call of American nationalism began to become the platform for the progressive movement beyond radical multiculturalism, a view that Obama has adopted and identified with. Though this might be accurate, I believe remnants of this view can be found in it’s early beginnings during the battle of these two principles. For example, Barbara Jordan the first southern African American female elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first African American female Keynote Speaker for a major political party convention famously called for this type of American civic nationalism which she called a sense of national...
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