This introductory chapter discusses how black intellectualism adds an additional obstacle to the lived experience of many African Americans. From abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, to Barack Obama, whose navigation of the overwhelmingly white world of American politics to rise to become the president of the United States, questions about intellect and racial “authenticity” and “legitimacy” have often followed prominent black intellectuals and political leaders as they pursue knowledge and work to apply their knowledge in communities throughout the United States. Indeed, white Americans are often unable to resist the urge to mix what they understand as compliments with a thinly veiled racialism when asked to characterize prominent African American intellects and leaders.
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