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

Similarly, Collins emphasizes what she dubs the "love and trouble" tradition in the black family--a tradition that provides, in part, that black women should "unquestioningly support black male sexism" because "black men experience more severe oppression than black women." Central to this notion is the idea that black men have been denied their masculinity, and often respond by dominating or even abusing women. An important part of this tradition, Collins notes, is the idea that if a black man uses or abuses a black woman, she should "keep it in the family."

"This 'conspiracy of silence' about black men's physical and emotional abuse of black women is part of a larger system of legitimated, routinized violence," she writes. "Because of its everyday nature, some women do not perceive of themselves or those around them as victims."

Radio talk-show host Pagano puts it more succinctly: "I do think that part of [the black community's support for Clinton] is machismo. It's the old, you know, 'protect the guy.'"

Cheryl Smith explains: "Really, as black women, if we are wronged by a black man, we have to think twice, and three times and four times, before we become public with it because we're going to get ostracized for tearing down another black man. When, in actuality, who's going to make that black man be accountable for his actions?"

If black women are unlikely to put the issue of sexual discrimination above race, then the civil rights claims of white women certainly exert no rival claim upon most black women's loyalties. Collins notes that many black women feel that "white feminists identify with their victimization as women but ignore the privilege that racism grants them." Nor is class the only issue driving a wedge between black and white women. Some black literature deals expressly with the notion that white women regularly look the other way at white men's subjugation and harassment of black women. It is a grudge that finds frequent expression in the memoirs of black women and observers of slavery: "Any [white] lady is ready to tell you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody's household but her own," writes one 19th-century slaveowner. "Those she seems to think drop from the clouds."

And there are the lingering class resentments. "You've been caught up in this thing because, you know, you worked my grandmother and after that you worked my mother, and after that you worked me," wrote Fannie Lou Hamer, an early-20th-century black author, analyzing white women's culpability in black women's oppression. "And you really thought you was more because you was a...white woman, you had this kind of angel feeling that you were untouchable."

Given the common perception that white women have long overlooked and even benefited from racial discrimination, black women are not inclined to be overly sympathetic to a young white woman's claim of victimization. And this is especially true where, as in Paula Jones' case, the harm she has suffered cannot be easily shown in dollars and cents.

If, as expected, the full House votes this week to hold impeachment hearings, the politics of supporting the president could become exceedingly weird.

Some Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee concede that the smart play for Republicans would be to open a serious examination of the sexual harassment issues underlying the Jones case and the accusations of Kathleen Willey, the White House volunteer who alleged this spring on 60 Minutes that the president groped her. After all, the president is in charge of enforcing the country's laws--not only the criminal laws (e.g., perjury) but also the civil rights laws such as those against sexual harassment.

One thing is clear: the Congressional Black Caucus and the racial civil rights community will be the president's most vocal supporters. Twenty-nine of the 35 CBC members in the House voted against release of the Starr report. Indeed, the CBC has appointed itself a sort of superset of presidential defense lawyers, scrutinizing the fairness of every decision the committee makes and leading the effort, for example, to search Starr's files for evidence that exculpates the president. Last week, the White House enlisted the aid of the civil rights lobby to produce a series of attack ads.

On the other side, potentially, are white voters, who, fortunately for Clinton, seem to be fairly happy so long as the economy keeps roaring. "I do think that it's very volatile, and that President Clinton should be sending roses to [Federal Reserve Chairman] Alan Greenspan every other day," says David Lublin. Because of this fear, many Democrats are desperate to cut some sort of deal with Republicans to avoid a divisive spectacle that could hurt them at the polls by alienating a key group of swing voters: white women.

Jones appears to be holding firm to her million-dollar demand, especially since at least one wealthy Democratic stalwart offered last week to pony up the million on his own. Despite all the hoopla over Jones' I-want-an-apology demand, the truth is that Paula Jones was willing to forgo that condition last summer if only the numbers had been right. In a hearing last September, during which Jones and her previous lawyers, Joseph Cammarata and Gil Davis, discussed her reluctance to settle for $700,000, the lawyers denied that the apology was a deal-breaker. "It's our client's view that the settlement is...unacceptable to her for reasons that have varied a bit between language and money, but that primarily, at the end...focused on the amount of money." As correspondence released this summer makes clear, the problem boiled down to a dispute over attorneys fees. Davis and Cammarata asserted that Jones owed them hourly fees in an amount that would eat up the entire $700,000; Jones believed she had a contingency fee contract that called for her attorneys to receive no more than a third. (The contract itself, written hastily on a 99-cent notepad and never clarified, is a masterpiece of ambiguity.) Davis and Cammarata "compromised" by demanding two thirds, after outstanding expenses were deducted, an offer at which Jones understandably balked.

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