Not in Our Lifetimes The Future of Black Politics
by Michael C. Dawson
University of Chicago Press, 2011
Cloth: 978-0-226-13862-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-70534-7 | Electronic: 978-0-226-13865-7
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226138657.001.0001


For all the talk about a new postracial America, the fundamental realities of American racism—and the problems facing black political movements—have not changed. Michael C. Dawson 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 Barack 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. Through a thoughtful analysis of the rise of the Tea Party and the largely successful “blackening” of President Obama, 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 astute, passionate but pragmatic, Not in Our Lifetimes forces us to rethink easy assumptions about racial progress—and begin the hard work of creating real, lasting change.


Michael C. Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science and professor in the College at the University of Chicago, where he is also director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. He is the author of three other books: Blacks In and Out of the Left, Black Visions, and Behind the Mule.


Not in Our Lifetimes is vintage Michael Dawson. This book is replete with insights on the black/white public opinion divide in the aftermath of the Katrina crisis. The implications of the increasing class cleavages among African Americans and the growing wave of immigrants for multiracial political alliances are also discussed with authority and remarkable clarity, and provide a backdrop for a compelling argument on why new visions are needed to guide black politics in the twenty-first century. Dawson’s penetrating analysis is a must-read.”

— William Julius Wilson, Harvard University

“Taking his patient and prescient eye to modern events, Dawson gives us a clear-eyed look at black America. The popular wish to believe the races are (finally) equal, is unsettled in this sober and illuminating account of black political thought. What DuBois gave us 100 years ago, Dawson offers us today: an empathetic, but critical look at race relations in America today. This is social scientific truth-telling at its best.”

— Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day



1. From Katrina to Obama

2. Katrina and the Nadir of Black Politics

3. The Obama Campaign and the Myth of a Post-Racial America

4. Black Political Economy and the Effects of Neoliberalism on Black Politics

5. The People United?

6. Conclusion: Toward New Black Visions

Epilogue: Taking the Country Back