BILL CLINTON AND BLACK AMERICA by DeWayne Wickham

BILL CLINTON AND BLACK AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

USA Today columnist Wickham (Woodholme, 1995, etc.) surveys a wide range of African-Americans to find out why so many of them were drawn to the Clinton presidency.

Black people’s overwhelming approval of Clinton during his years in the White House remains somewhat puzzling in the face of a number of policies that adversely and disproportionately affected the African-American community, including the three-strike sentencing rule, drastic welfare “reform,” and firm support for the death penalty, not to mention such weak-kneed acts as pulling Lani Guinier’s nomination for assistant attorney general for civil rights. Among the dozens of people Wickham interviewed, famous folks and average citizens alike most frequently identified the factors mitigating these disappointments as Clinton's aura, his comfort level when talking with blacks, his basic intelligence, his speech style, his sax-playing, and (on a more practical level) the economic upswing that braced the country during his second term. One important strain is expressed by novelist Toni Morrison, who notes that “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 echoed by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree: “As a southerner, as a Democrat, as someone who grew up in segregated Arkansas, he understands the black experience.” Clinton's appointment of African-Americans to cabinet, senior staff, and judicial positions was critical; so too were his comments about Africa being the cradle of civilization and his apology for slavery and the nation’s 400-year mistreatment of an entire people. Wickham also includes pertinent speeches by, and a long, post-presidency interview with, Clinton, but it is the words of African-Americans that strike home most forcefully.

Better editing would have eliminated the excessive number of redundant comments, but this sampling feels honest as it offers both instinctive and intellectual appraisals of the Clinton appeal.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2002
ISBN: 0-345-45032-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001




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