Joe Biden is the “third Black president,” columnist says: Bill Clinton was once called the “first Black president,” while Barack Obama was the first actual Black president. Now, a columnist says President Biden is the third.
Joe Biden the Third Black President?
Novelist Toni Morrison, in The New Yorker back in 1998, referred to Bill Clinton as the “first Black president.” Written during the height of the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, the argument was controversial right away.
“Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-
Clinton, of course, was not actually Black, but Barack Obama, elected a decade after the Morrison article, was.
And now, a columnist claims that President Biden is “our third Black president.”
Juan Williams, writing in The Hill, made that claim this week. Williams — who is himself Black — begins by referencing the Morrison piece from 1998.
“Morrison’s memorable one-liner still gets laughs. It was a smart way to say that Clinton broke new ground by elevating Black leaders and policies that helped Black people,” Williams said, seemingly forgetting what exactly Morrison meant in calling Clinton that. It was also not a “one-liner,” but rather than article-length argument by the famous novelist. And Morrison would state in subsequent interviews that her calling Clinton that was more about how he was treated, than what he did.
“By Morrison’s standard, President Joe Biden is our nation’s third Black president,” Williams says.
Once again: Toni Morrison meant something very specific when she said that about Bill Clinton, and almost none of the examples she gave apply in any way to Biden, who isn’t Southern, didn’t come from a single-person household, doesn’t play the saxophone, isn’t known to enjoy junk food, and is not typically accused of womanizing.
Sure, Biden is facing an impeachment inquiry, just as Clinton did, but under very different circumstances. For one thing, unlike today, the Republicans in 1998 at least had a plausible reason to bring impeachment proceedings.
Williams notes that Biden has struggled to close the deal with Black voters, a demographic where Donald Trump is clearly hoping to make inroads and has therefore launched a specific reachout effort to connect with such voters.
Trump did do slightly better with Black voters in 2020 than in 2016, but there’s no truth to the ex-president’s claims that that demographic has become more supportive of him since he was indicted and his mugshot was released.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the polls,” Trump claimed in a recent interview with Hugh Hewitt, as noted by Williams, “my polls with the Black community have gone up four and five times.”
Williams argues that Biden has named the first Black vice president and first Black female Supreme Court justice, among other accomplishments.
“Biden has achieved the lowest Black unemployment rate on record. He lowered the cost of prescription drugs and hearing aids; he has the faster rate of creation of Black-owned small business in the last 25 years; he can point to an increase in Black enrollment in government-sponsored health care plans and a double-digit reduction in Black child poverty,” Williams writes.
“Last week he cut $9 billion more in student loan debt. He has fought to cut student loan burdens which disproportionately weigh on low-income students and a large share of Black students.”
Williams goes on to argue for the necessity of Biden’s re-election.
“It looks likely that the alternative to Biden in the 2024 presidential race will be Trump and a GOP that is hostile to Black people and Black interests. It is not much of a choice.”
Author Expertise and Experience:
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.