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Author's use of stereotypes questionable

Nov. 5, 1998

In a recent edition of The New Yorker, well known author Toni Morrison wrote that President Bill Clinton, 'white skin notwithstanding, is our first black president. Blacker than any actual person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime.'

Morrison said 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.'

Speaking of the recent presidential investigations, Morrison added, 'the message was clear: 'No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn us, we will put you in your place or you out of the place somehow ... You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot.''

Morrison's belief that Clinton is the first black president because of his upbringing and current so-called persecution leads one to wonder what stereotypes Morrison would use to describe him as the first female president.

Would Clinton have to be barefoot and pregnant, standing on the White House lawn hanging towels on the clothesline, while the apple pie is cooling on the Oval Office window sill? Would he have to be weak, uneducated and excessively emotional?

When one uses age-old stereotypes in describing one group or another, the result is rarely positive.

How can Morrison expect non-blacks to overcome the use of stereotypes when she herself cannot? A woman cannot become a strong member of society if she believes the trite adjectives thrown at her, and neither can a black individual.

Morrison surely did not mean to put down her race, but to an outsider it appears as if she is saying it is OK to do so. To classify Clinton as black because he is downtrodden by the American people for personal and business dealings is unfair to every other racial, religious and ethnic group that has been persecuted at some time.

There has been no point in recent American history where one group or another has not screamed out discrimination. Many times, the group is justified in doing so; sometimes they are not. But in almost every case, the group is standing up to fight a stereotype thrust upon it by another segment of the population.

In order to overcome the images cast upon a group, the individuals composing that group must be the first to stand up and disagree. When one allows others to stereotype a group he or she belongs in, like Morrison has, the individual relays a message agreeing he or she is less worthy than the rest of the population.

Clinton will probably not be recorded in history as the first black president or the first woman president or any other type of president. In history, he will be seen as just a human being, and perhaps that is how we all should see him and each other.

(Stephanie Kugle is senior journalism major from Shreveport, La.)

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