Black like him

Despite the Starr report's dirty details, Paula Jones' case against the nation's "first black president" hinges as much on race as on sex

In the world of black talk radio, the leader of the free world is the helpless victim not only of Ken Starr, but also of Monica Lewinsky. "They see her as someone who clearly went after something and got it," says Cheryl Smith. "She is not seen as some little innocent naif."

The entire discourse shows a curious blindness to sexual politics. "To hear women, black women, say 'It's his business. He's doing a good job,' is simply beyond my comprehension," says Joe Howard, former editor of the Black Economic Times. "That grieves me. Especially when the behavior that [Clinton] has exhibited is the kind of behavior the linchpin to what's happening in the black community. We have upwards of 65 percent--I think it's as high as 70 percent--of black families headed by females. So what does that mean? It means that black men have walked away saying that 'it's my business.' That 'sex is my business. She wanted it. We had it. So what?'"

"It's some kind of phenomenon," says A'Vant. "And it's worse with the black women than with the white. I talk to Anglo women; 50 percent think he's some kind of a freak. But when you go in my community, I'd say 90 percent of them [support the president]."

A'Vant says it isn't the first time he's noticed black women, especially, making excuses for a man. "It's a sickness," A'Vant asserts. "You look at the Mike Tyson thing? They want to blame everybody but him for raping that girl. O.J.? The same thing. That's the way they do...And what happened when Warren Moon choked his wife? What did [Felicia Moon, the choked wife] say? I don't know--what is it--the downtrodden, beat-me syndrome?"

Moreover, the apparent blind spot of African-American women to Clinton's actions is especially perplexing. Black women have a long history as the victims of sexual harassment--much more so than white women, since black women have been in the work force in proportionally greater numbers much longer.

To be sure, some black women do take Clinton's sexual harassment seriously. "Absolutely," says Carmen Pagano. "Some women have called the show and said, 'This is a problem...This is something that's not acceptable, and we need to start with him.'"

How many? "Maybe 10 percent of black women [callers]," she says.
"Look, I find some of these things puzzling too," says David Lublin. "When I watched the O.J. verdict, one of the cameras on the station I was watching was trained on black women at a battered women's shelter, who were all cheering hysterically that O.J. was acquitted. Can I explain that? No."

Nevertheless, he does so quite convincingly, in simple rock-breaks-scissors political terms. "Interestingly, regrettably, I think the racial politics trumped the facts and the sexual politics."

It isn't the first time this phenomenon has been noted. In The Run of His Life, Jeffrey Toobin recounts the findings of the prosecutions' jury consultants in the O.J. Simpson trial:

"Between the two focus groups and a general telephone survey...[Don Vinson, the prosecution's jury consultant, found that] African-Americans remained devoted to Simpson's innocence, with black women his strongest supporters. According to the telephone poll, black men were three times more likely than black women to believe that Simpson was guilty. Moreover, black women felt overwhelmingly that even if Simpson had engaged in a pattern of domestic violence against his ex-wife, that didn't make him appreciably more likely to have killed her. According to the telephone poll, a full 40 percent of black women felt that the use of physical force was appropriate in a marriage. And black women especially could not abide [prosecutor] Marsha Clark."

Nor was Clark the only white woman in the case they didn't much care for. When mock jurors were asked to rate everyone in the case on a sympathy scale from one to 10, black women gave O.J. all nines and tens. According to Toobin, they gave the late Nicole Brown Simpson "a 7, a 5, and a 3."

The results are not only similar to those described by members of the Jones camp; on at least one side, the jury consultants are the same. (According to members of the president's defense team, Bob Bennett, the president's lawyer, has hired the Los Angeles-based Vinson to do the primary jury research in the Paula Jones case.)

In the Simpson case, Vinson came up with a theory to explain the numbers:
"Evaluating the data in social science terms, he came up with what he called a 'psychosexual' reason for the results," Toobin wrote. "He said that African-Americans viewed O.J. as a symbol of black male virility in a predominantly white world. He was handsome, masculine, likable, and charming. As a women in particular saw Clark as a 'castrating bitch' who was attempting to demean this symbol of black masculinity."

Black feminist scholars and writers have offered possible explanations. In her book Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins, an associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Cincinnati, writes of an "Afrocentric" worldview that places greater emphasis on the extended family and the good of the community than does the more individualized, "Eurocentric" worldview.

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