Monday, January 14, 2008


The Clintons and the myth of the black community
by Tressie Cottom

If I had said it once I have said it two trillion times – there is no such thing as the “black community”.

That is not to say that black Americans do not share a great many social and cultural markers. We do. However, in the world of politics it would be a mistake to think we all share the same left-leaning principalities.  We run the gamut from small business owners deathly afraid of mandatory minimum wage increases to green citizens who wants our government to tackle the issues of global warming.

We are not a monolith.

Neither are we children.

In light of the Clinton’s latest guerilla political attacks I find it necessary to assert both of these simple truths.

The 90s were great for America in general and for black Americans in particular. President Bill Clinton became for many of the face of that relative prosperity. Then there is his obvious love of a round ass and soul food. Add all of that up and you get a community happy to, for once, have a president with whom they can identify. We even crowned him, with a wink and smile, our first “black” President.

It would seem Bill didn’t get the wink. Neither did he or Hillary get the notice about black Americans not being foolish children in need of chastising. That is the latest ploy of the Clinton camp as they run against a dynamic, talented, qualified challenger in Barack Obama, you know, the guy who could actually be America’s first black president.

First, Hillary made it clear that civil rights would be nothing without a benevolent white president. She says MLK was great and all but it was Lyndon B. Johnson who made the real difference. From there a shrieking Bill wagged his finger at us and told us not to fall for the slick talking Obama campaign. It would seem we should just trust him on this matter – Barack means us no good for Mr. Clinton certainly provided no logical reasons for why we should not elect him. It would seem his word should be enough?

Then they rolled out one of the wealthiest black Americans, Bob Johnson, to speak that “colored talk” to South Carolina voters. He was also, presumably, charged with painting the Illinois Senator with the crack dealing brush that made his company, BET, one of the financially successful coon shows ever created. Again, black Americans were expected not to ask questions, not to demand substantive proof of any of these claims. We are only to look to the great white hopes and their shiny lawn jockey for direction. “Rest your simple little minds” they seem to be saying to us.

“Screw you buddy” is my eloquent response.

Bob Johnson no more speaks for me than Michael Jordan speaks for the child laborers who make the shoes bearing his name.  Even if our community was a monolith Bob Johnson would not be one of us. He left our community long ago, deciding to exploit our images for his own personal gain. Now, that is his right and privilege as an American.  As an economics student I can appreciate his hustle. But as a black American I reserve the right to revoke his “black spokesperson” card. When BET Uncut hit the airwaves Bob Johnson ceased to be relevant, if he ever was.

Then there is Bill. While our community is not a block of nameless, faceless sameness we do have some similarities. One of which is the drunk uncle. You know him – Rufus, Leroy, Little Man. He used to be a star running back in high school. Maybe he joined the military and has some benefits thanks to the shrapnel still lodged in his skull. He use to be good looking, had a lot of potential. The ladies loved him, money followed him. He was stylish, the life of the party.

But time has not been kind to your drunk uncle. His mojo don’t pull like it use to. The liquor has left hanging jowls and bitter tirades in its wake. He’s still welcome at the cook-out but people pull the kids closer and hide their purses.  He is almost always the last one to leave, reluctant to relinquish this, his last shot at an audience.

Mr. Clinton you are the drunk uncle and while we entertain you no one is much listening to what you have to say. We see you for what you are – an aging statesman who has, perhaps, found Viagra not to be the wonder drug it claims? You are overstaying your welcome and destroying the legacy you had a shot at building. You sound shrill and desperate and condescending.  Black America needs your tirade on fairytales about as much as you need to believe in another one. Your chance at Camelot ended with a thick-thighed girl and a stained dress. The only decent thing to do would be to leave before we pack up the potato salad.

And then there is Hillary Clinton. You may be qualified for president. Indeed, I think you are. In another time you may have cake-walked your way into history. But your plans met up with destiny. While you may still win, you are going to have to earn it. You will also have to earn the “black vote”, if there is indeed such a thing. The way to do that does not include telling us how to think. Neither should it include refusing to respect Barack Obama as the worthy candidate he is. You meet equals with bigger guns. You outwork them. You outhustle them. You out politic them. You disparage those you find beneath you.

It would seem you don’t think the senator worthy of your best fought campaign. That is unfortunate. Because one of those other things that seems to run through black communities is our capacity for forgiveness, our ability to see beyond the very race thinking we are so often accused of to see a person as an individual. You had that chance until you refused to extend to us the same courtesy.

We are not a monolith.

We are not children.

We are not bargaining tools.

We are not sheep to be shepharded at the whims of a benevolent leader.

We are Americans.

We are voters.

And I dare to speak for this “black community” of which so many are fond of imagining when I say we look forward to divesting you of all these misconceptions in the voting booth.

Tressie Cottom


Keith said...

The Clintons have been awful in the way they bring race issues into this. I don't think race would have been an issue in a general election, in fact polls show Obama was the top choice for Republicans in the Dem field.

I personally think his position on Iraq disqualifies him, by being against it from the start, he took himself out of the positive solution for the world and complained for 5 years from the sidelines.

Look for the first black President on the GOP side, where it will be about principles, not race.

Belinda said...

Well said, Tressie! Barack is the only candidate that the Reps are AFRAID of! They want Hillary as the nominee because they know she can be beat. The DON't want Barack because he cannot. I was furious with Bob Johnson's comments, the man who had the means and ability to do so much for his people but what do we get: Crap TV!


Wonderful...I am a 30 year old Black woman from the South...and form today MLK's bday forward...I am getting deeply involved in Obama's campaign...calls...volunteering in SC...etc...whatever happens...God has the last say...

Keith said...

A few days ago I wrote: "Look for the first black President on the GOP side, where it will be about principles, not race."

After watching that debate, Obama could win, which obviously won't come as a surprise to anyone here! He's great on positions, but his "inspirational" speeches, all I'd seen until now, bother me, because I wonder about people needing to get hope/inspiration from the president.

In any case, wish race was not at all a part of the discussion, but the Clintons are great at pulling those strings.

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