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 Barack.”
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
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.