Andra maintains an active research agenda. Her primary areas of inquiry are in African American politics, particularly African American leadership. She also has secondary research interests in Black-Latino political relationships, political participation, and religion and politics. Scroll below as Andra describes her most active projects in progress.
Studies of “Post-Racial” African American Leadership
I have been interested in uncovering the complexities of young black leadership since I witnessed the contentious mayoral contest between Cory Booker and Sharpe James in Newark,New Jersey in 2002. My observations during that campaign helped to shape the questions that drive my research today.The 2002 Newark mayoral election illumined four critical research questions. How should we understand generational transition in African American political leadership? Are the conflicts between young and old black leaders driven by disputes over style, substance or both? How does the ascendance of black politicians born after the Civil Rights Movement alter the dominant “black political agenda”? And will young black politicians do a better job than their predecessors of solving the problems of persistent inequality that plague some black communities?
Whose Black Politics?
These questions have animated a number of projects. The first big project was a volume I edited entitled Whose Black Politics? Cases in Post-Racial Black Leadership (In addition to the introduction and conclusion, I wrote or co-wrote four chapters of the book). It was published in December 2009. In the volume, my colleagues and I compile case studies of 10 young African American leaders, including President Obama. We examine campaign and governance strategies and further problematize the deracialization construct. In presenting these varied case studies, we hope to demonstrate that, contrary to popular opinion, the complexity and diversity that has always characterized black politics continues even into the “Obama generation.”
The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark and Post-Racial America
I delve deeper into these questions in my book-length case study of African American politics in Newark, New Jersey. This book is the culmination of more than five years of research, in which I use ethnography, in-depth interviews, focus groups, policy analysis and precinct level data analysis to ground my findings. The manuscript will be released in March 2012.
Newark’s first black mayor, Kenneth Gibson, famously said that “Wherever America’s cities are going, Newark will get there first.” Similarly, I think a close examination of racial politics in Newark helps to give students a deeper understanding of the intra-racial, generational and class dimensions of African American politics. Many people view Newark and its current mayor as a model for both urban reform and young African American leadership. I hope that my book helps provide students of urban and race politics with a good scholarly framework that will enable them to apply the lessons of Newark nationally in a meaningful way.
The Obama Administration and Race: Reflections on the First Term
The Obama presidency has created and will create opportunities for specialists in African American politics to examine the impact of descriptive representation on the substantive and symbolic representation of black political interests in the Executive Branch. Indeed, there is a robust discussion among black political elites to assess the impact of the Obama Administration on black well being. I hope that my work can provide a systematic analysis.
In 2010, I published an article in The Journal of Race and Policy, which compared the symbolic and substantive pronouncements with respect to race in the first six months of the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama Administrations. That article will serve as a starting point for my next book, which looks at the Obama Administration’s accomplishments on addressing issues of racial inequality. Much has been made about whether President Obama has done much at all for racial minorities. I hope that this book will help answer those questions.
An Empirical Study of Deracialization
The strategy of deracialization, or the practice of black politicians deemphasizing race in their campaigns to cultivate a crossover appeal, has been a common theme in most of my academic work. Scholars understand the electoral efficacy of deracialization. However, we really do not understand which aspects of a deracialized candidate’s persona elicit the most crossover appeal and why. In an upcoming book project, I seek to help answer those questions. I have just begun writing a series of papers about voter response to crossover appeal that I hope to aggregate in book form. I use cutting edge empirical techniques to pinpoint the aspects of deracialized strategies that have the greatest appeal to crossover voting audiences.
Selected Article-Length Projects
Michelle Obama and Race Politics in the United States
Related to my work on President Obama, I also have a paper on the racialized role Michelle Obama plays in the Obama White House. While first ladies have no formal political power, they play a critical public role in their husband’s presidencies. In this paper, I argue that Michelle Obama is more racialized than her husband and discusses race more than her predecessors. Mrs. Obama’s willingness to make overtures toward race helps her to advocate for issues of concern, but it also helps her husband to deflect criticism that he ignores race.