The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president has crowded a critical field within black studies seeking to decrypt the contradictions of our “Obama era”: How do we reconcile claims of colorblind equal opportunity and a tokenized minority difference with persistent material inequalities, racism, and the strategic exclusions of a criminalized poor? But if African Americanists have sought to account for Obama’s “failure” to further black liberation, as Erica Edwards contends, the Obama presidency represents not so much the failure of a man as the failure of a specific messianic narrative of black politics: black freedom struggles, from the Reconstruction era to the present, have been organized around the promise of an anointed race man who shepherds his people from bondage to freedom. It’s an inspiring story, one that in critical moments of African American history has sustained the...

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