But I have to say that Bill is not the only one I want to retreat. I would also like to see a retreat of all the identity politics playing out as Black folks square off against Bill for supposedly racist attacks against Obama. As frightening as it is to say this in public, for fear of myself being castigated as a race traitor, I think that that particular take on the politics is out of control. I do not say this because I think Bill was the best president for black people. I am not delusional on that level. Indeed I have remarked before that I found him disappointing - the crime bill and the Lani Guinier episodes particularly so.
Oh,and one more thing. People who trot out the "first Black president" thing and say it's "ridiculous" as Bob Herbert did in his column earlier this week, need to read what Morrison said during the impeachment hearings. Morrison was making a complicated argument about the tropes of blackness and the way that they were used against Clinton. Here's an excerpt:
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."
We are constantly being reminded that drug-dealing is a trope of blackness by Obama supporters who are accusing the Clintons of raising race through their surrogates. Toni Morrison's comments related to the ways in which Bill too had been slandered on the basis of those racialized tropes. More importantly, she was offering an explanation for why Black people especially rallied to Clinton's defense. There was a kinship with him and a resonance with his up from poverty story.
Here's my happy vision. We will get back to fighting about issues, including various kinds of experience and potential for inspiration. Black folks will stop measuring how black Barack (or Bill) is in order to determine whether to vote for him (or Hillary). We would remember that neither candidate would have the dubious luxury of being President of Black America but would have to do the difficult job of representing all. In my utopian vision, supporters of the candidates will be more thoughtful and less silly in stating their reasons for supporting one versus the other. And we will all get to the business of beating up the Republican nominee - since none of those candidates from a POLICY standpoint have anything substantial to say on behalf of or even to our community.