Monday, March 31, 2008

The Second Black President

When author Toni Morrison proclaimed Bill Clinton as "our first black President" it was enough to evoke pause, confusion, frustration, and anger. To hear this from the author of The Bluest Eye, Sula, Jazz, and Beloved (some of the most complex books on black culture since Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Alice Walker's The Color Purple), one might need to step back and consider her perspective. Morrison is not an idiot. Her esoteric mind is responsible for the brilliant darkness beneath the surface that infects a small Ohio town in Jazz; for the longing of a black girl to not be who she is (having gone beyond the abuse of Celie in The Color Purple) with The Bluest Eye; the local blacklisting in Sula. So for Morrison to step up and claim Bill Clinton to be "our first black President" is not only a cause for disturbance, but a cause for an outcry of irony because Morrison's point was unbelievably accurate when one takes the statement within context.

Her reference was from the Bill Clinton blow-job, gone public, in that he garnished understanding from black men around the world accompanied with shrugs from men of all colors and praise in rap music (Too $hort used Clinton as the launch pad in the declaration of "Player's Holiday", featuring Mac Dre, Mac Mall, and Ant Banks when saying "The President did what?...awe, that's all good, baby."). Not to mention embraced his loose nature, even within the denial, as a tribute to human error. For in black culture human error is a cause to forgive, while keeping it firmly locked in memory. Not that blacks would turn a blind eye to such an action (while making it the butt of all jokes on Def Comedy Jam), but blacks are more apt to understand a slip up than conservative whites; especially if the slip up comes from someone that blacks relate to.

Morrison states it perfect in her defense for Clinton when she wrote:

"...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."

She goes further in saying that the backlash he received would have been less extreme had it been an actual "white" president. For infidelity is top priority for men in power (white men especially). Therefor the Clinton scandal created a cause for Clinton to be considered "one of us" while, like most blacks in power, going on to make a bigger fool of himself by creating the newest annoying slogan (twenty years too late and stolen from black culture) with the whole "Chill Out" madness in regards to Hillary (needing) to drop out the race.

But that is neither here nor there.

Barak Obama is a direct contribution to the strange twist American culture has taken over the last ten years. In a time where the golfer to idolize is black, the rapper topping the charts is white, Queen Latifah is doing Jenny Craig commercials and Oliver Stone is making PG-13 movies, it is not an unreasonable bout that we might potentially have our official "first black President" by the end of the race. Despite Morrison's defense of Clinton (along side her claim in his defense of victim-hood) the relevance of Obama tops the Clinton "blackness" for the simple fact that his clean cut approach might be toeing the line, while being much less dangerous than the presences of Clinton. It's interesting how this works, because white people actually feel a calm in Obama's presence instead of worry. Not that this is going to make the "nigger" comments go away; it is more like Obama will be placed in the "safe-Negro" category, along side Will Smith and Denzel Washington, and looked upon as a model for black men to aspire to.

This does not stop the internal racism within black culture who question if Obama is "black enough." The fact that a black candidate is closer to presidency than any one before him is not enough for blacks to smile with a gleam of hope. It is taken that there must be some Uncle Tom buried down there some place, and we should be of the interest of NOT trusting him (as we find the room to shout "WE WAS ROBBED" upon Alfonso Jackson's resignation from HUD after suspicion of special treatment towards friends of his ...then again, Jackson may be thought of as an Uncle Tom solely based on his twenty year friendship with President Bush), just in case he turns out to not play the game the way we always dreamed a black president would.

Strangely enough, the criticism from Obama's blackness came down strong from writer/professor Shelby Steele. Steele states that by going to an all black church which is "intellectually beneath him" he is not only selling himself short by surrounding himself with his own kind, but denying his white mother who raised him. Steele states that who Obama is comes from a direct influence from his white mother, not the black church; and so, essentially, for Obama to attend such a church is more of an attempt to please the black voters at the expense of his heritage.

Steele may have a point, but his claim is not nearly as accurate as Morrison's statement of Clinton as "our first black President." Steele is telling us that by attending a black church and denying his mother (Obama has never, one time, denied his Mother; these were actions done by Fredrick Douglas and August Wilson), Obama is actually deceiving the black community by being a politician rather than a spiritual being. In a sense Steele feels that Obama should not attend the church, surround himself with more "diversity" and claim his white roots along side his black roots, while allowing them to flow through the same vein. Ironically Obama's universality and closeness with a wide range of people is not only an honor to his mother, but a greater fusion with black culture. Obama is proving the theory of "legacy" through action not through coaxing. Not that Steele has missed the point, but Steele's lack of belief in the potentiality of a black president is a let down at the least, and betraying at the most. Steele's pessimism, mistaken for "reality", comes off as self-hating and welcomes the internal limitations within black culture rather than dismissing them (along side Randall Kennedy). To make a claim that Obama does not have a chance at winning the election is NOT living in reality; it's living in oblivion; for Obama's chance to become the second black president becomes more of a clear vision as the days go on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Anthony -- it's Victor P. Just stumbled upon your blog. That's interesting, what Shelby Steele said. I would be interested in seeing where he goes to church. Wherever it is, I am sure it's one yawner of a congregation. Then again, I think MaCain and Shelby probably go to the same church.

Whether or not Obama has some "Uncle Tom" in him remains to be seen -- although I don't think Obama is a Colin Powell, who is a tried and true tom turkey. Brotha must be crazy though, to run for president. He'll probably need a special "Obama-mobile" with a dome shaped bubble made out of diamond just to get from one edge of Texas to the next. Nonetheless, I never thought I would see a brotha make it this far to becoming president in my lifetime.

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writer, actor, & producer in training. in 2005, along side my partner in film and best friend since childhood, we produced and executed 3 films. to this day i am still working in "the business" to the best of my abilities and moving forward to the "next level." currently i am producing a film project, co-writing another, awaiting word on a stage play for New York, and pursuing my next one-person show. i'm also in school pursuing my Ph.D in Social Science.