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I have been bothered throughout the primary season by frequent references to Bill Clinton as "the first black president", accompanied by assumptions that this is an affectionate nickname earned because of some special Clinton sympathy for African-American issues. This is a liberal myth. In the interest of accuracy, we need to resist the temptation to keep repeating it. It may indeed be that the Clinton years were very good for the African-American community, but the "first black president" line had nothing to do with that. For it's real providence, please follow me below the fold.......

On Oct 5, 1998, at the height of the Ken Starr investigation of the Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater scandals, New Yorker Magazine published a commentary of the events by Toni Morrison. In it, she made the "first black president" reference, talking about the ferocity with which he was being attacked. The commentary had absolutely nothing to do with the relationship between Bill Clinton and the black community. The entire article is interesting in a painfully nostalgic sort of way, and can be accessed here (sorry, I don't know how to make it an embedded link):

The relevant paragraph is below:

African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: 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 when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."

This may seem like a small point. And there is certainly an argument to be made for a special affinity existing between the black community and the Clintons. But when we repeat some out-of-context nugget like this to mean something it clearly was not intended to mean, we are doing the same thing that we decry when the dittoheads repeat what they have heard in the Republican media echo chamber. We're better than that (or at least we should have better research skills)!

Originally posted to blueisland on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 02:25 PM PDT.

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