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“Black Is, Black Ain’t”

Glenn Ligon, Warm Broad Glow, 2005, neon, paint. Installation view, Renaissance Society, Chicago, 2008.

AS EVER IN CHICAGO, there is no dearth of tragedy where racial politics are concerned: ongoing revelations about city hall’s involvement in covering up police torture of black suspects; a recent 18 percent increase in the homicide rate that disproportionately affects black youth; and the threat of further black disenfranchisement for the sake of the 2016 Olympic bid. For the past several months, however, conversations about race in the Black Metropolis, as elsewhere in the United States, have turned to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. He too is a marked man, at once targeted for castration by Jesse Jackson and hailed by Ted Kennedy as a leader of messianic proportions. As I write, it seems inevitable that in the weeks to come, the hopes, epithets, and ire heaped upon him—be it in “celebrity” commercials or on “satirical” magazine covers—will only increase.

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