Former President Bill Clinton has been called the “first black President” in the media because his candidacy drew large numbers of African American voters to the polls. Back in 1998, author Toni Morrison made a comment in the New Yorker about Clinton 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.”
At the time, Morrison’s comment about Bill Clinton was taken as a compliment, but a decade later, she said her comment was misinterpreted.
Morrison told Time, “People misunderstood that phrase. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp.”
Indeed, last year writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic that Morrison’s words were meant to highlight that Clinton came from an unprivileged background.
While attending a rally for his wife on February 11 in Memphis Tennessee, Hillary Clinton, Bill reportedly told the crowd everyone has at least some African ancestry.
“The other thing I want to make a funny comment about is Steve Cohen’s remark that I was just a stand-in for the first black president,” Clinton reportedly told the crowd. “I’m happy to do that, but you know what else we learned from the human genome? We learned that unless your ancestors, every one of you, are 100 percent, 100 percent from sub-Saharan Africa, we are all mixed-race people.”
Various media outlets have differing views on what Bill Clinton’s goal was in his speech at the rally. The majority of news sites have reported Clinton as “downplaying” the current U.S. President Barrack Obama’s accomplishments during both of his terms, such as Gawker and the Daily Caller. The New York Post reports Clinton still wants to be known as “America’s first black President.”
— syreeta mcfadden (@reetamac) February 14, 2016
According to Complex, Clinton’s comments were “not-so-smart” and that he has likely misinterpreted what Toni Morrison said about him in 1998.
Clinton criticized Obama for the gridlock in Washington, stating, “A lot of people say you don’t understand – it’s rigged now. Yeah it’s rigged now because you don’t have a president that’s a change-maker.”
However, Clinton also said at the rally that Obama has done “a better job than he has gotten credit for.”
The Clintons are reaching out to repair their relationship with and secure the votes of African Americans, according to Mediate. The relationship was damaged back in 2008 when Clinton described Obama’s image in the media as a “fairytale,” which angered African Americans.
Hillary has called Bill her “secret weapon,” but many Democrats worry Bill’s recent remarks about race and his past scandals could end up hurting her campaign rather than helping. The Guardian reports that 26 percent of Democrats in Tennessee are undecided, and among registered voters, Clinton’s negative ratings are the highest in any state.
— OurPresidents (@OurPresidents) February 14, 2016
With the Tennessee primary only three weeks away, there’s concern among Democrats that if Hillary ends up as the nominee, that could cause Republican voters in Tennessee to come out in droves.
Clinton’s comments come not long after actress Meryl Streep’s controversial remarks at the Berlin film festival.
Streep said, “I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures. There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all we’re all from Africa originally. Berliners, we’re all Africans really.”
What do you think of Bill Clinton’s comments? Will he help or hurt Hillary’s campaign?
[Photo courtesy of the AP/John Minchillo]