Sunday, July 27, 2008

You Can't Go Harlem Again, Bill


When I read at The New York Times that Bill Clinton may return to cold shoulders in Harlem, the location of Clinton's offices, the Thomas Wolfe classic came to mind, You Can't Go Home Again. One synopsis of the book says Wolfe's main character, a novelist named George Webber, returns home to find people outraged about the ugly truths Webber's writings revealed about them, and that's why Webber has trouble returning home.

It's a little different with Bill Clinton returning to Harlem. His behavior away from home revealed an ugly truth about him, that he sees black people as pawns and will quickly use fear of blacks to his advantage just like a conservative white politician practicing the Southern Strategy. African-Americans have thought that saxophone-playing Bill, the man jokingly called "the first black president," would never behave like any other white guy on the make for public office and throw black folk under the bus. Some of us have been disappointed, and so, as the article indicates, not all is well in Harlem for Bill these days:
“You sold us down the river, Bill; you took us for granted,” said Darlene Sims, co-owner of an Internet cafe in Harlem. “There’s a definite level of betrayal, of ‘You done us wrong by marginalizing us.’ ” (NYT)
Of course, it's really more complicated than that and you should probably read the article for yourself. The article, in which Bill is quoted as saying he doesn't expect hard feelings to linger, discusses the approaching 7th anniversary of Bill putting offices in Harlem.

You know, Bill may be right. It's possible hard feelings with dissipate. Blacks, after all, forgave George Wallace, who once was the poster boy for segregation and racism. On the other hand, Wallace was not on the hook for betrayal. He was what he was and then born again with love in his heart, so to speak, and only if you believed he honestly transformed after becoming paralyzed.

Is Bill Clinton making yet another false assumption about the souls of black folk? Do all of us, more importantly for Bill most who live in Harlem, forgive and forget?

HillBill photo from 2007 Politico story Clinton Finds Sweet Home in Harlem via the AP.

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