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In October 1998 Toni Morrison famously said that Bill Clinton, a white man, was America’s first black president:

… 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.

What!? It sounded like something white liberals in New York would half-seriously say at a party. Not Toni Morrison. Not the author of “The Bluest Eye”. Not in the New Yorker magazine.

I was sure it was some kind of a mistake, but when I got the article and read the whole thing I found out she was serious, even if she did make the larger point that blacks, more so than whites, understood what Clinton was going through with the whole Monica Lewinsky thing: how he stood naked before the law, how his enemies were after him and there was little he could do.

Ten years later in a debate they asked Barack Obama, a man with black skin running for president, if Bill Clinton was the first black president. He said this:

I would have to investigate more of Bill’s dancing ability and some of this other stuff before I accurately judged whether he was, in fact, a brother.

He played it for laughs in what was otherwise a very serious debate.

What must Obama have thought of the question? Obama has spent years trying to come to terms with his blackness and here he is being asked about the blackness of a white man who never for one day or even one minute ever had to face these questions, much less their consequences.

Playing it off for laughs may have been the only graceful way Obama had of answering the question on sound-bite television. The question came out of left field and he had little time to frame an answer.

A few days later Dick Gregory brought some much needed common sense to the whole thing. He said, “Has Chelsea ever been pulled over by the white police because her dad was the black president?” He pointed out that Bill Clinton does not know what it is like to drive while black.

What makes you black is not poverty or a love of McDonald’s or growing up without a father. It is not even a certain nakedness before the law. It is not a way of talking, acting or dressing, like wiggers and assimilated Negroes think. It is having to live in a black skin in a white world.

So Clinton is not black in any important sense. Tiger Woods is black even if he lives in the Cablinasia of his mind, some perfect land where skin colour does not matter. And as for Obama, he is not mixed or biracial as some say, not in America, but just plain old black.

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