09 May 2008

Toni Morrison Takes it Back: Bill Clinton Wasn’t the “First Black President”

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Darryl Fears, in a Washington Post blog, quotes Toni Morrison, in a recent Time magazine interview, distancing herself from the Clintons by asserting that people who read her New Yorker description of Bill Clinton as “the first black president” misunderstood her.

People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.

It’s true that Morrison’s “first black president” comment was occasioned by the necessity for leftists like herself to defend William Jefferson Clinton in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky sex-and-perjury scandal, and Morrison did indeed attempt to depict Mr. Clinton as being railroaded (and, in her own hypertrophied rhetoric, “lynched” and “crucified,” just like a poor black man), but the heart of her comparison, the section quoted time and time again by a nation, half chuckling in agreement, half shaking its head in embarrassed chagrin at the use of these racial stereotypes by a famous black novelist, was:

White skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.

And, though she didn’t actually write it down, every New Yorker reader read between-the-lines the additionally silently-implied comparison: “sexually promiscuous, predacious, and incapable of self-restraint, can’t keep it in his pants.”

We misunderstood her? I don’t think so.

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[…] Vassa eggen wrote an interesting post today on Toni Morrison Takes it Back: Bill Clinton Wasnât the âFirst…Here’s a quick excerptDarryl Fears, in a Washington Post blog, quotes Toni Morrison, in a recent Time magazine interview, distancing herself from the Clintons by asserting… […]



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