REYNOLDS: Our First Black President

There is something about Bill Clinton that I secretly admire, although it is not the same trait that has caused novelist Toni Morrison to see him as a soul brother.Morrison said in a column in the most recent New Yorker magazine that despite Clinton's pink skin Bill Clinton is our "first black president." She wrote: "Years ago in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs that, 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."The reasons she gives for Clinton being accepted as a white soul brother are puzzling. She wrote that he displays almost every type of "blackness, single- parent household, born poor, working class, saxophone playing, McDonald's and junk-food loving boy from Arkansas."What about his credentials as a Rhodes scholar? Yale law school grad? Does that part of him ensure he keeps his membership in the white race, while only dysfunctional, near-do-well traits qualify him for "blackness."To her credit, she does put her finger on a characteristic that some whites can be more black than an African-American, such as Uncle Clarence Thomas but when you divvy up characteristics between the races, you are heading for trouble.Blackness is not a lifestyle characteristic anyway in my book. It is a state of mind which pushes an ethical standard of pride in black people, places and culture and their advancement, although not a fealty that strains out criticism or self-analysis. Defined from Morrison's perspective, astronaut Mae Jemison, editor Susan Taylor or scholar Cornel West wouldn't be as "black" as a third-rate saxophonist. What a low blow!And how black was soul brother Clinton when he fired Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for doing little more than promoting condoms to stave off the AIDS epidemic that is now upon us? He wasn't even a mulatto when he stormed into a forum and verbally beat up on Sistah Soldier to win points in the white community during his first presidential race. It is highly possible that some of this coziness blacks have with Clinton is based on selective amnesia and the fear of the Republicans rather than any degree of ethnic solidarity with Clinton.If we follow Morrison's tortuous thought path, why bother to push for the election of someone like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gen. Colin Powell or Maxine Waters as the nation's first black president, when an imitation would do just as well.What ever happened to the real thing? That's what too many blacks have had all along. For too long we have lived imitations of life, never having real education, only a piece of a job and health care chock full of holes. So why now do we stop dreaming for the day that the ex-sons and daughters of slaves could win the White House as a testimony of the resilience, faith of blacks to excel and white America to change?Should we now settle for half-a loaf, now that there's a man in the White House who commits adultery, lies, and betrays. Are those some-how "black" traits too?I don't think we have to make Clinton an honorary black man to see in him traits worth admiring as well as worth finding revolting.I can still find something worth admiring in Clinton not because of his racial identity but because of his uncanny ability to ride out crises, to not be ground in the dirt, to overcome, to not let his enemies make him nothing but a hound dawg, although he has the manners of one.Lately, when I face the morning, I do so with the resolve that no matter what mistake I might make today, no matter what a fool I might make out of myself, nothing will happen to me that is as humiliating, embarrassing or gut- wrenching as what has happened to Bill Clinton.Yet, he sticks his chin out, puts a smile on his face and presses on. How many of us could stand under the kind of pressure the Clintons' have endured without crawling under the bed, retreating to alcohol or throwing in the towel.There is something about grace under fire that is admirable and I don't believe you have to be black or white to perfect it.


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