Below are two excerpts from “The Audacity of Post-Racism,” a piece I published earlier today on TheRoot.com.

I delve into the race politics that marked my adolescence (and hip-hop’s) because the manner in which their sharpness has blurred is the backdrop for “Toward A More Perfect Union.” Hip-hop is now America’s dominant youth culture. It still dislocates whiteness, but in a way far less conducive to personal growth or rigorous assessment of injustice. White hip-hoppers of my era constructed elaborate rhetorical structures intended to accommodate paradox, to acknowledge the devilishness of white supremacy without condemning ourselves. Today, white youth are confounded by a different paradox: the divergence of cultural capital and hard capital in American life.

Largely because of hip-hop, American coolness is coded and commodified more than ever as American blackness. White kids all over the country believe, based on the signifiers flashing on their TV screens, that blackness equals flashy wealth, supreme masculinity, and ultra-sexualized femininity – interrupted occasionally by bursts of glamorous violence, and situated in a thrilling ghetto that is both dangerous and host to a constant party. They feel locked out of the possibility of attaining that lifestyle, because of the color of their skin. They don’t know where to find a workable identity, unless they embrace the “I’m a fucking redneck” ethos of Levi Johnston, Sarah Palin’s future son-in-law. All this strikes them as oppressive, and their resentment is compounded by the fact that they possess no language with which to discuss it.

Were any of this utterable, one could present them with reams of evidence demonstrating that in all the important ways, white people in America are anything but marginal. Traditional markers of prosperity – the inheritance of wealth, the rates of home-ownership, the comparative levels of education and income and incarceration – reveal just how privileged whites remain relative to blacks. A recent study conducted at Princeton University revealed that a white felon stands an equal chance of being granted a job interview as a black applicant with no criminal record, and there are dozens of other studies that each speak volumes.

Nonetheless, confusion persists even among the kind of coast-dwelling, liberally-raised, relatively well-educated white kid I once was about the basic facts of racism today – to say nothing of everyone to their ideological right. They want to know if the playing field is level; they can’t tell, and they’ve got their fingers crossed that it is because if it’s not they’ve got to confront things no one has prepared them to face. Many of them would rather believe, and in fact suspect, that it is slanted in black people’s favor.

At the very least, they’re eager for a kind of moral compromise, one with an air of the fairness so appealing to young minds: racism cuts in both directions. Anyone can be its victim, just as anyone can refuse to perpetrate it.

This is what Barack Obama provided on March 20th in Philadelphia. After a succinct but powerful summary of institutional racism’s history and its practical and psychic effects on black people, he added that:

“a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race… as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything…. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time… to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.”

Obama’s insights about white anger are salient, but to characterize ire at affirmative action and at the thought that others might think them prejudiced as ‘similar’ to the frustration felt by the victims of entrenched structural racism is disingenuous, and even irresponsible. I don’t dispute that white resentments should be addressed, if only because white people will refuse to grapple with race unless they are allowed to centralize themselves. But to begin such a discussion – the mythic National Dialogue on Race – without acknowledging that structural racism ­is a cancer metastasizing through every aspect of American life is impossible. Call it, to borrow a catchphrase from the foreign policy side of the election, a precondition.

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On the other hand, the pressure on Obama to denounce Minister Farrakhan – which directly preceded the pressure to denounce Reverend Wright – offered the candidate a chance to speak a difficult truth to a valuable constituency and play a role in genuine healing. Certainly, Obama’s rhetoric spoke to such a desire:

“What I want to do is rebuild what I consider to be a historic relationship between the African-American community and the Jewish community. I would not be sitting here were it not for a whole host of Jewish Americans who supported the civil rights movement and helped to ensure that justice was served in the South. And that coalition has frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part of my task… is making sure that those lines of communication and understanding are reopened.

But rather than turning to that task, Obama proceeded to do precisely what the current, sorry state of black-Jewish relations demands. He iterated his rejection of Farrakhan’s endorsement, citing the Nation of Islam leader’s anti-Semitism, and left it at that.

For twenty-five years now, the specter of black anti-Semitism has been used as the rationale for tremendous Jewish disinvestment – practically, emotionally, financially – from the black community and the legacy of progressive work that blacks and Jews once shared. A handful of comments from civil rights-era black leaders provide most of the evidence. For many in the Jewish community, Jesse Jackson will always be the man who called New York City “Hymietown” in 1984. Al Sharpton will always be the man who inflamed a tense situation in Crown Heights in 1991, and Farrakhan will always be the man who, in 1983, called Judaism a “gutter religion.”

The fact that all three have apologized, moved on, and made amends does not seem to matter ­­– that Jackson was instrumental in restoring peace to Crown Heights, that Sharpton’s 2004 presidential run was an exemplar of inclusiveness, that Farrakhan has been meeting regularly with a group of rabbis for more than ten years now, in an effort to mend fences.

Nor does it seem to matter than none of these men speaks for the black community at large, or that Obama’s candidacy and the emergence of hip-hop generation leaders and grassroots political organizations prove that the civil rights generation is no longer in the driver’s seat. They remain central in the Jewish memory of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Their comments are frozen in amber, never to be forgotten or forgiven. Thus, denunciations of Farrakhan – despite the declining influence of his organization and his own outreach to the Jewish community – remain red meat for many Jewish voters.

How can this be, when the Ferraros, Imuses and Lotts of the world tiptoe back into the mainstream after a few probationary months, their best intentions unimpugned? Even Gibson, whose anti-Semitic rant was truly epic, had his incoherent, responsibility-dodging apology promptly accepted by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish watchdog group that has never stopped vilifying Farrakhan.

The story behind the story is complex, one of changing identity in a changing country. Perhaps no two groups in America share such an intimate history as Jews and blacks; by turns it has been beautiful and tense, unified and vituperative. Both groups have been shattered and scattered, displaced and enslaved, and both have made outsized contributions to the cultural life of America. Both communities, perhaps by the nature of diaspora, have wide margins, in addition to existing on the margins of American life. By this I mean that the ratio of people who feel ambivalent, ambiguous, full of unresolved questions about their blackness or their Jewishness, is high in relation to the number of people nestled snugly in the bosoms of those communities. The pain and perspective engendered by this double marginality are important ingredients for art, and in the desire for social justice.

Jews and blacks have been united by this shared Otherness, and also pitted against one another because of it. At the root of the Jewish retreat from the coalition of which Obama speaks is the way in which Jewish assimilation has relied on the immutability of black Otherness as a foil. It has been an Other more Other than their own, and sometimes one to measure progress by their distance from.

As the Jews have been accorded more and more of the privileges of whiteness, many have decided, consciously or otherwise, that it behooves them to change their bedfellows. Fifty years ago, it was far more difficult for Jews to be complacent or hypocritical about race: they didn’t have the option to pay mere lip service to the cause because they understood that they were implicated in it, both as potential victims and potential oppressors. The benefits of whiteness were fewer for Jews, and more readily contested. Thus, the morality of allowing them to accrue was easier to address honestly, and find lacking.

Read the full piece on TheRoot.com.

Adam Mansbach is the author of several novels, including ‘The End of the Jews,’ winner of the California Book Award, and the bestselling ‘Angry Black White Boy.’