Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Clarification of Toni Morrison's Statement About Clinton

After yesterday's post, I was delighted to see my favorite author, Toni Morrison, endorsing Obama. At her 75th birthday party two years ago, she and I sat beside each other and talked politics. Since I often regard Morrison and my mother as kindred spirits, I have never found it difficult or intimidating to sit down and chat with Morrison. And she has always been receptive to my conversations. So when I told her that we have had a nonmilitary coup in this country when Bush came into office, she schooled me. "We have a junta in office," she clarified. I immediately reflected on the definition of junta, and concluded that she's right. A junta is when a group of men take over the government.

Although Morrison has written that Clinton was the first Black president, she did not mean that literally. Someone who uses language to convey figurative as well as literal meanings, Morrison was examining the circumstances of Clinton's life and comparing them with the dominant narrative of blacks in the U.S.

"In 1998, Morrison wrote a column for the New Yorker magazine in which she wrote of Bill Clinton: '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.'"

So when people tell you that Morrison called Clinton the "first Black president," remember she was referring to tropes that historically have defined African Americans, not that Clinton was literally Black.

3 comments:

E. said...

I'm trying to reconcile the political complexity that is Clinton with the image of Kwame Kilpatrick as a black mayor and the distortions, similiarities and idiosyncracies have me feeling as if I'm in a house of mirrors, unable to distinguish one arrogance for another ignorance.

M. L. Simms said...

Power must corrupt. That's all I can say. And to think that Dear Kwame didn't have the sense to secure his own telephone and send all of those messages. At least someone would have had to obtain a subpoena to get his phone records if he hadn't used a city phone. Isn't he a lawyer? He should have known better.

E. said...

On so many levels....he should've known better.

But I think that gangster approach to life that his generation has to life and politics was revealed in his oh-so-insincere apology.

Saying you're sorry isn't enough. Saying who is or isn't responsible is obvious. Saying other people are just like him and just not public figures is shifting blame.

Stating emphatically that HE IS THE MAYOR, make no mistake, in a well-prepared, horribly written and terribly read statement is

gangster.