Question of the Month

Neoliberalism and black politics?

Has neoliberal ideology among black elites narrowed our conceptions of what’s possible in black politics as well as our focus on means to electoral politics & lobbying? If so, is this a good or bad development for blacks’ quest for social justice?

Latest Posts

Live webcast with Michael Dawson
November 2, 2011

Ask UChicago with Professor Michael Dawson at 11am on Wednesday, November 2!

He's Black.
September 8, 2011

Is Obama Black, Bi-racial, or Post-racial? Michael answers in a Zócalo Public Square chat.

Severe Hardship, Dashed Hopes
July 27, 2011

We are entering a period when for blacks there is a dangerous and growing confluence of severe economic hardship and dashed hopes.

Upcoming Books

Not in Our Lifetimes book cover

Not in Our Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics
Available November 2011
(University of Chicago Press, 2011)

From the publisher — “In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, polls revealed that only 20 percent of African Americans believed that racial equality for blacks would be achieved in their lifetime. But following the election of Barack Obama, that number leaped to more than half. Did that dramatic shift in opinion really reflect a change in the vitality of black politics—and hope for improvement in the lives of African Americans? Or was it a onetime surge brought on by the euphoria of an extraordinary election?

“With Not in Our Lifetimes, Michael C. Dawson shows definitively that it is the latter: for all the talk about a new post-racial America, the fundamental realities of American racism—and the problems facing black political movements—have not changed. He lays out a nuanced analysis of the persistence of racial inequality and structural disadvantages, and the ways that whites and blacks continue to see the same problems—the disastrous response to Katrina being a prime example—through completely different, race-inflected lenses. In fact, argues Dawson, the new era heralded by Obama’s election is more racially complicated, as the widening class gap among African Americans and the hot-button issue of immigration have the potential to create new fissures for conservative and race-based exploitation. Bringing his account up to the present with a thoughtful account of the rise of the Tea Parties and the largely successful “blackening” of the president, Dawson ultimately argues that black politics remains weak—and that achieving the dream of racial and economic equality will require the sort of coalition-building and reaching across racial divides that have always marked successful political movements.

“Polemical but clear-eyed, passionate but pragmatic, Not in Our Lifetimes will force us to rethink our easy assumptions about racial progress—and begin the hard work of creating real, lasting change.”

Publisher | Amazon

Blacks In and Out of the Left: Past Present and Future
Available in 2012

Based on Dawson’s 2009 Du Bois lectures at Harvard University, Blacks In and Out of the Left examines the two most active phases of 20th century of black leftist insurgency: 1917-1940(53) & 1964-1980. The key question going forward for black politics, and specifically radical black politics is “what is to be done,” or “where do we go from here” as Martin Luther King framed the same question in 1967. There are important lessons from both periods, Dawson argues, for rebuilding a progressive black politics. He also critiques various theorists’ narratives of the Black Power Movement that claim that black movements and their “imitators” (according to critics such as Todd Gitlin) were responsible for the fragmentation of the left and more generally progressive politics in the latter third of the twentieth century.

Reflections on Black Politics in the Early 21st Century
Available in 2012

Reflections on Black Politics in the Early 21st Century concentrates on the statistical analysis of the determinants of racial attitudes and the massive changes in racial attitudes, particularly among blacks and Latinos (the groups with the largest changes), that occurred between 2008-2010. Reflections also more explicitly engages the political theory literature using that literature to engage such questions as what traditional, if any, modes of black political leadership are relevant for contemporary black politics. This book is the most traditional political science manuscript of the three (to the degree that any of my work can be loosely labeled “traditional political science”).


Published Books

Black Visions book cover

Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies
(University of Chicago Press, 2001)

From the publisher — “This stunning book represents the most comprehensive analysis to date of the complex relationships between black political thought and black political identity and behavior. Ranging from Frederick Douglass to rap artist Ice Cube, Michael C. Dawson brilliantly illuminates the history and current role of black political thought in shaping political debate in America.”

Publisher | Amazon

Behind the Mule book cover

Behind the Mule: Race and Class in
African-American Politics

(Princeton University Press, 1994)

From the publisher — “Political scientists and social choice theorists often assume that economic diversification within a group produces divergent political beliefs and behaviors. Michael Dawson demonstrates, however, that the growth of a black middle class has left race as the dominant influence on African- American politics. Why have African Americans remained so united in most of their political attitudes? To account for this phenomenon, Dawson develops a new theory of group interests that emphasizes perceptions of ‘linked fates’ and black economic subordination.”

Publisher | Amazon