Monday, January 14, 2008

The "First" Black President

BlackProf contributor and UMD Law Professor Sherrilyn Ifill has a great post up on the nation's "first Black President", Bill Clinton, and his work derailing the campaign of the man who might become the actual First Black President, Barack Obama.

But what I actually liked most was her description of why Clinton was given the title (ironically, but still somewhat substantively) by Toni Morrison in the first place:
When Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton “the first black president,” I knew what she meant. He had a kind of swagger, a kind of personal charisma and (in comparison to the other candidates on the ticket in 1992) a kind of “hip-ness” that smacked of negritude. Hanging out with Vernon Jordan, having power breakfasts with Ron Brown, clappin’ on beat with the choirs at black churches, Bill seemed like he could really hang. Even more telling, white conservatives hated him like they’d hate a black president. They disrespected him like they would a black president, virtually going through the man’s garbage looking for dirt. And they were obsessed by and jealous of Bill’s sexuality, just as white men have historically been obsessed by the sexuality and prowess of black men.

The last part is telling. Another Blackprof contributor, GW Law Professor Paul Butler, once wrote an article based along similar themes. Starr is to Clinton as Regular Prosecutors are to Blacks [40 B.C. L. Rev. 705 (1999)] tried to analogize the experience many Black people have with our legal system to President Clinton's situation. It's not that Black people don't commit crimes. It's that they feel like the system is out to get them in ways that stretch way beyond the principles of justice, accountability, culpability, or fairness. They sympathize with Bill Clinton because he seems to, in some small way, engender that same disregard for basic dignity and fairness that they too face as a matter of course.


Anonymous said...

That does a lot to help me understand. I had no idea why they called him that.

Mark said...

You keep doing a bang up job showing how the word "Black" is meaningless and should, like "White" be expunged.

If that defines "Black" in any way and measure, Mr Obama, Ms Rice, Mr Dungee, and so many other people just don't fit your mold ... yet are somehow also "Black". \

If there is no singular black culture/ethnic identity or thread just as there is no singular white one then why do you implying there is?

I also find it ironic a progressive "feminist" like yourself would continue to cast the Penthouse caricature of the fat-cat politician casual abusing women as part and parcel of his position and power (as it seemed Mr Clinton did regularly) in a positive light.

PG said...


You seem to have missed the entire point of the post and especially of the quote, which is not that Clinton actually was black, but that he seemed comfortable with black people and was treated (by the sort of people who deny the existence of white privilege, i.e. white conservatives) like he was the stereotype of a black male: frighteningly over-sexualized, and assuredly criminal -- no matter which direction an investigation had to take in order to dig up some evidence of criminality.

Black people are not objectively defined by being over-sexualized and assuredly criminal, but these stereotypes are ones that lie in wait for them. Your example of Obama as someone who has wholly successfully evaded that trap is odd here, because his admitted high school drug use keeps coming up from the Clinton campaign, including an indirect reference from BET's Robert Johnson, where he talked about how the Clintons were doing good work for black people while Obama was off being a bad negro. (I still cannot believe that anyone straight-facedly will talk about the Clintons and then make a fuss about drug use.)

Mark said...

I took it that the list quoted gave a set of characteristics normally (fairly or not) attributed to parts of the Black subculture, which is supported by Mr Schraub's remark "ironically, but still somewhat substantively". This does not to my reading seem like your "seeming comfortable with" reading.

PG said...

"Hanging out with Vernon Jordan, having power breakfasts with Ron Brown, clappin’ on beat with the choirs at black churches, Bill seemed like he could really hang."


"comfortable with"