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Mon May 14, 2012, 11:04 PM

Shedding light on Toni Morrison's characterization of Clinton as "our first black President."

Because nearly everyone gets it wrong.

First, her own explanation in 2008:

Do you regret referring to Bill Clinton as the first black President? --Justin Dews, Cambridge, Mass.

--People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis--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. (Emphasis mine).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/05/08/toni-morrison-on-calling_n_100761.html

The original from 1998:
http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/clinton/morrison.html

In a quite baffling and frustrating manner, it was not a "story" but a compilation of revelations and commentary which shied away from the meaning of its own material. In spite of myriad "titles" ("The President in Crisis", what the public has been given is dangerously close to a story of no story at all. One of the problems in locating it is the absence of a coherent sphere of enunciation. There seems to be no appropriate language in which or platform of discourse from which to pursue it. This absence of clear language has imploded into a surfeit of contradictory languages. The parsing and equivocal terminology of law is laced with titillation. Raw comedy is spiked with Cotton Mather homilies. The precision of a coroner's vocabulary mocks passionate debates on morality. Radiant sermons are forced to dance with vile headlines. From deep within this conflagration of tony, occasionally insightful, arch, pompous, mournful, supercilious, generous, salivating verbalism, the single consistent sound to emerge is a howl of revulsion.

But revulsion against what? What is being violated, ruptured, defiled? The bedroom? The Oval Office? The voting booth? The fourth grade? Marriage vows? The flag? Whatever answer is given, underneath the national embarrassment churns a disquiet turned to dread and now anger.

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 bodysearched, 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." (Emphasis mine.)


While it is true that Clinton had huge support from the African American community, Morrison wasn't claiming that Clinton was the first black President based on his policies but rather, she was commenting on his victimization from the elite in DC and the consistent slap-downs directed towards his "uppity" self.




9 replies, 3020 views

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Reply Shedding light on Toni Morrison's characterization of Clinton as "our first black President." (Original post)
Luminous Animal May 2012 OP
EFerrari May 2012 #1
Luminous Animal May 2012 #2
unblock May 2012 #3
Luminous Animal May 2012 #4
NJCher May 2012 #5
Luminous Animal May 2012 #7
Liberal_Stalwart71 May 2012 #6
Luminous Animal May 2012 #8
Luminous Animal May 2012 #9

Response to Luminous Animal (Original post)

Mon May 14, 2012, 11:05 PM

1. Good luck.

lol

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Response to EFerrari (Reply #1)

Mon May 14, 2012, 11:14 PM

2. Ignorance is bliss...

or so I've heard.

Thanks, E!

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Response to Luminous Animal (Original post)

Mon May 14, 2012, 11:15 PM

3. some quotes are beyond repair, even by the original author.

once the public gets hold of a quote, it's anyone's guess what it'll end up meaning.

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Response to unblock (Reply #3)

Mon May 14, 2012, 11:26 PM

4. Like I said, ignorance is bliss...

because it felt sooooo good for Democratic operatives and columnists to celebrate have a "first black President" without actually having to elect one.

So, people took, out of context, 3-4 words from a 1500 word essay and created a brand that never existed.

I like to pretend that words still have meaning.

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Response to Luminous Animal (Original post)

Mon May 14, 2012, 11:28 PM

5. worth reading

I feel like I understand it better now.


Cher

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Response to NJCher (Reply #5)

Tue May 15, 2012, 12:01 AM

7. Given that Ms Morrison had little clue to Clinton's racial instincts...

she must give herself a face-palm every time that phrase, out of context, is spoken.

Here she writes a wonderful thoughtful essay and it's mined for a 3 word political advertising blurb.

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Response to Luminous Animal (Original post)

Mon May 14, 2012, 11:30 PM

6. Bookmarked and Recommended! For far too long, Toni's words were taken out of context!

 

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Response to Luminous Animal (Original post)

Tue May 15, 2012, 12:17 AM

8. Kick.

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Response to Luminous Animal (Original post)

Tue May 15, 2012, 10:10 AM

9. Morning kick.

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