THE SPINE DECEMBER 15, 2007
The old-time black politicians and other public figures are mostly in Hillary Clinton's camp. It is, of course, habit -- how could it not have been otherwise? -- for "people of color" to sue for patronage and programs before the white office-holders whom they had helped elect. For nearly eighty years this meant that most people of color (how this differs so greatly from "colored people" is a mystery to me, but...) voted Republican because the Democratic Party as a whole was mortgaged to the Democratic Party of the South and, oh, yes, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. That began to change with Franklin Roosevelt, and the black vote has been going Democratic (hugely) since then.Jesse Jackson hijacked part of the black vote and used it to acquire personal position and sway in the country, and he did this at no time so deftly during than the Clinton administration, in which he served as the country's totemic plenipotentiary in Africa. Along with his sidekick, Susan Rice, and from this position, he put America on the wrong side of the calamity in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Jackson was the hip-hop pontificator and Al Sharpton the buffoon in this arrangement of power, such as it was.Barack Obama threatens all these cushy contracts. He has enormous support among whites and less support among blacks. But his victory in the Democratic Party, even if he doesn't actually win the election, would alter the dynamics of American politics, in general, and of racial politics, in particular. In fact, there would be much less drama in the racial issue and much more achievement on matters touched with race. No one could say that Obama was at bottom a racial politician, and that's because he hasn't been. Still, no one could deny that he was elected -- if he is elected -- in the full consciousness of the American people that he is an Afro-American. And his mixed-race origins make him more and more like other people identified as Afro-American. This paradigm fits the type of other Americans: mixed race, mixed religion, mixed ethnicity, even mixed class. This is also an American experiment, an American achievement.Sorry about this long prelude. But these are some reflections on the news I read in The Economist that the alter ego of Martin Luther King, the Reverend Andrew Young, now a businessman lucratively representing American companies in Africa and African states in America, had endorsed Mrs. Clinton. This is no surprise. No longer a moralist but a calculator, Andy is entrapped in the ways of the old regime, a huge part of which is the dependency of blacks on whites. Bill Clinton's black appointments were largely symbolic in what has been historically black turf. Looking at her top campaign staff, is there reason to think that Hillary would appoint a black person as secretary of state or attorney general, spots into which George Bush put two blacks and one Latino? Not particularly distinguished appointments but hardly less distinguished than his other designees.As The Economist reported, Young had a weird reason not to endorse Obama, and it was that Bill Clinton (not Hillary, by the way) was just as black as Obama. Which is just nonsense.:
“To put a
brother in there by himself is to set him up for crucifixion,” he said.
But he could not resist adding a kicker. “Bill [Clinton] is every bit
as black as Barack—he's probably gone with more black women than
As if this is an accolade for Bill, let alone for Hillary.On Commentary's blog, Contentions, TNR's new assistant editor, Jamie Kirchick, makes a fascinating correlation. The first person to ascribe blackness to Clinton was Toni Morrison. In 1998, she wrote that:
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."
This is Morrison's usual emotional heavy baggage. But is it true? Actually, it seems to me that Bill Clinton and Hillary identify more with the big rich who are their friends than with the black poor who were their supporters.As for Andy Young, Kirchick recalls for us that Wal-Mart had employed him as the head of a p.r. front, a post from which he was then fired.
And last year Young was forced to resign from
an organization created by Wal-Mart to drum up support for it in
minority communities after he defended the corporation from claims that
it forced “mom and pop” stores to close because such establishments
were owned by:
people who have been overcharging us selling us stale
bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved
to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it
was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it’s Arabs; very few black
people own these stores.
Oh, for the smooth Andy Young who was once a stalwart in the fight against bigotry. Gone, gone, gone.