From The New York Times:
For Americans of African descent, one of the difficulties in writing about identity is that the discussion, intentionally or not, is simultaneously intensely personal and profoundly public. Our unique experience and the racial identification manifested in melanin binds us inextricably to both our individual, subjective, personal experiences and to the collective experience of the group. Efforts to be seen as “an individual” necessitate that we differentiate ourselves from some supposedly monolithic black identity and authenticity. Like it or not, our individuality is dependent on first identifying and, depending on where we are coming from and where we are going, either embracing or distancing ourselves from the group.
Randall Kennedy’s “Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal” and “A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win,” by Shelby Steele, illustrate this dichotomy. Kennedy uses the historical and contemporary notion of the race traitor as a prism through which to view black identity, while Steele uses Barack Obama’s candidacy as a window on contemporary black identity and progress.