Book Review: Bill Clinton and Black America
Publication Date: Jan 15, 2002
List Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Imprint: One World/Ballantine
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Book Reviewed by Walter Benefield
Bill Clinton came to the presidency of the United States inheriting a less than admirable race relations history from his predecessors. What Clinton did to improve opportunities for African Americans, and how the majority of African Americans view the former President is the premise behind "Bill Clinton and Black America’ by Dewayne Wickham. Taking a journalistic approach to the question of "Why is Bill Clinton is so popular among African Americans?", Wickham, a journalist and writer interviewed a diverse group of African Americans for the answers.
In the opening passages of Bill Clinton and Black America Wickham provides a brief but informative summary of the achievements of past presidents achievements in terms of African Americans and race relations. These introductions precede each chapter's interviews and position Clinton's achievements against those of past Presidents. According to the diverse group of African Americans interviewed by Wickham, Bill Clinton is a man who understands the black experience. Novelist Toni Morrison called him the "first black president," setting a tone for black America to either follow or dismiss. The interviews in Bill Clinton and Black America layer to form an image of 42nd president as black America sees him. The capstone to Bill Clinton's kinship with black America came when he selected Harlem as the site for his post presidential office. In the words of Norma Johnson, a retiree, from Fisher, Indiana, ’Bill Clinton will be safe in Harlem.’
Several common themes flow throughout the interviews. First, black people are comfortable with Clinton, and he with them. Secondly, Clinton's upbringing has endeared him to black America as someone who understands them. Thirdly, Bill Clinton genuinely cares about black Americans and isn't afraid to show his concern, privately and publicly. In short, Bill Clinton is a man who isn't afraid of Black Americans, as apparently his predecessors have been.
Columnist Les Payne provides a flattering and insightful view of Bill Clinton, taking a quote from an article written by James Baldwin. Describing the color of his skin Baldwin says, ’This color seems to operate as a most disagreeable mirror, and a great deal of one's energy is expended reassuring white Americans that they do not see what they see...an appallingly oppressive and bloody history known all over the world.’ Les Payne further states, ’Bill Clinton does not view black skin as a disagreeable mirror. Instead Bill Clinton looks African Americans in the eye not with condescension...but with an uncommon fairness.’
The interviews also provide evidence of Clinton's lasting connection with African Americans. During his troubled times in office, Bill Clinton's approval rating dropped among whites, while his approval among African Americans remained high. A recurring sentiment among those interviewed is the idea that black America will hold up an underdog despite past indiscretions, if they feel their interests are being represented.
As a president Bill Clinton's history is sealed but the verdict is still out on what will be his lasting legacy, whether negative or positive. ’Bill Clinton and Black America’ makes a strong case for Bill Clinton's legacy as the president who accomplished the most for African Americans in the nation’s history.