Randall Kennedy

Randall Kennedy has been a contributing editor of the Prospect since 1995. He is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University. His several books include The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.

Recent Articles

The Case for Resistance

There is no common ground to be had with the Trump administration.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
This article will appears in the Winter 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Donald J. Trump will be the next president of the United States. That is sobering because he is glaringly unsuited for any significant public office, much less the most important in our country and indeed the world. Nothing about his pre-candidacy record recommends him. To the contrary, it is so lacking in relevant achievement, so marred by embarrassment, that many onlookers thought that his run for the presidency was nothing more than a publicity stunt. Then his campaign itself was so repulsive, so saturated with bigotries of various sorts, so ostentatiously crass, so glaringly demagogic, that it prompted many leading figures in his own party to repudiate him. The conservative New Hampshire Union Leader refused to endorse Trump, remarking, aptly, that he is “a liar, a bully, a buffoon.” The Dallas Morning News , which had supported every Republican nominee since 1940,...

Ta-Nehisi Coates's Caricature of Black Reality

Ta-Nehisi Coates has written the race book of the year. Too bad it’s disempowering.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation/Creative Commons.
This book review appears in the Fall 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is an open letter to his 15-year-old son, Samori. It conveys worry over Samori’s prospects and posits a stoical parental philosophy on raising a black man in America. Coates’s portrayal of the African American past, present, and future is gloomy. He asserts that the subordination of blacks has been an integral feature of the good fortune that Euro-Americans have enjoyed. “A mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below,” he observes. “You and I, my son, are that ‘below.’” True in 1776, “it is true today.” Coates presents American history as a chronicle of atrocities. The consolidation of white America, he writes, “was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of...

The Civil Rights Movement and the Politics of Memory

As opportunists try to hijack the movement's legacy, let's remember what actually occurred.

(AP Photo)
This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Celebrate our 25th Anniversary with us by clicking here for a free download of this special issue . Recollections of the Civil Rights Movement shape the way we comprehend and respond to a protest that remains sharply contested. The civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s aimed to remove racial barriers that confined, degraded, and marginalized racial minorities, particularly blacks. After half a century, people today recall the movement in different ways for different purposes. The filter of memory is used to contour the politics of the present. Many conservatives, with the convenience of retrospect, affirm the movement’s insistence that racial disenfranchisement and legally required segregation were abominations wholly inconsistent with constitutional requirements and that strong remedies were needed to eradicate those evils. It is not unusual nowadays to find celebration of...

Black America's Promised Land: Why I Am Still a Racial Optimist

Hope and pessimism have defined two traditions of American thinking about race. Fully acknowledging recent setbacks, the author makes the case for the tradition of hope.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
This article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Not so long ago, black Americans were giddy witnesses to what many regarded as a miracle. Election night, November 4, 2008, seemed to be a millennial turning point as a majority of Americans entrusted an African American with the nation’s highest office and greatest powers. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible,” Barack Obama declared, “… tonight is your answer.” Against the backdrop of that high, a downturn was inevitable. But what many blacks are feeling now is more than a correction; it is depression. The racial front is the site of especially keen disappointment. In a 2013 survey pegged to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, the Pew Research Center found that less than half (45 percent) of all Americans agreed that the country had made “a lot” of progress toward racial...

Imagining Malcolm X

Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X is a significant and poignant cultural event because of its subject, its purpose, and the recent tragic death of its author, the founder of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. Marable worked on this biography for more than two decades, struggling in recent years with a severe illness that in 2010 required a double lung transplant. Only days before the book's publication, Professor Marable passed away. His commitment to scholarship even in the face of sickness and death is inspiring. Although Marable has bequeathed to us a deeply valuable work, it is also deeply flawed. Marable sought to create a realistic portrait of Malcolm X, but his depiction remains mired in the sentimental, reverential perspective that he attempted to transcend. He presents reams of evidence that should demote Malcolm X from the exalted standing he enjoys among many progressives of various stripes. Yet Marable was simply unwilling...