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Friday, April 27, 2007

Barack The Magic Negro

Some blogs like this one are aghast at the latest song parody by Paul Shanklin, whose tunes are featured on Rush Limbaugh's show. I summed up the real story in comments:

Shanklin is lampooning racism directed at Obama. David Ehrenstein is the one who dubbed Obama the "Magic Negro", invoking the label given to a stock character in fiction who exists only to aid the white protagonist. (A classic example: Scatman Crothers in "The Shining."),0,5335087.story?coll=la-opinion-center

Sharpton is dragged into this because he, like Ehrenstein, is part of that contingent that holds to a narrow view of what constitutes black authenticity. (And because Sharpton has a famous voice, which Shanklin has impersonated before.) Obama fits part of that mold - he's a staunch leftist - but he draws suspicion because he draws a lot of white supporters.

(One wonders how many people would be miffed if our first black president had no roots to American slavery.)

This parody compares to "Blazing Saddles" - both portray racism in a work intended to lampoon racism.

The bloghost misreported Rush's comments about Donovan McNabb; I couldn't let that go by unchallenged:

Oh, you got the Donovan McNabb story wrong. Allen Barra at Slate got it right:

"Rush Limbaugh didn't say Donovan McNabb was a bad quarterback because he is black. He said that the media have overrated McNabb because he is black, and Limbaugh is right. He didn't say anything that he shouldn't have said, and in fact he said things that other commentators should have been saying for some time now."

The media tend to get a little hyped in favor of black sports players who play sports positions where blacks have been historically scarce. As the McNabb incident illustrates, such bias can dampen objective reporting. As coverage of the last Super Bowl demonstrated, it can also lead reporters to allow talk about black achievement to overshadow talk about the specific talents of the people in question.

(Linked to Slate article supplied in another comment - it's right here.

Update: Actually, Ehrenstein is promoting an entirely different form of racism. Shanklin is making use of the current buzzowrd "Magic Negro" to jab specifically at the long-standing not-an-authentic-black-person prejudice demonstrated by Sharpton and his ilk. Ehrenstein's racism is directed toward white people who support Obama. His own words from the LA Times article:

He's there to assuage white "guilt" (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.


Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn't project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him.

Update: Heh, Obama does have roots to American slavery after all. But not the kind that most African-Americans relate to.

Update: Is Al Sharpton black enough?

As the New Republic points out, Sharpton has an overstated following among black people. In 2004, when Sharpton ran for President, his traction among his alleged base was underwhelming. In South Carolina, where almost half of all registered Dems were black, both John Kerry and John Edwards received twice as many black votes as Sharpton. But this hasn't stopped media outlets from phoning Sharpton whenever something even remotely racial goes down. And it hasn't stopped writers from touting Sharpton's presumed popularity among black people, as opposed to "palatable" black people like Obama.

The issue with Sharpton isn't his blackness, of course. I suspect that a lot of blacks who prefer Edwards and Kerry over Sharpton would give this response: "He talks a lot, but he doesn't really do anything for us."

Update: Sharpton has gotten his digs into Obama - for being insufficiently involved in the black community:

The Rev. Al Sharpton has launched a "big-time" effort to tear down Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as a candidate for president, The Post has learned.

"He's saying that Obama never did anything for the community, never worked with anybody from the community, that nobody knows the people around him, that he's a candidate driven by white leadership," said a prominent black Democratic activist who knows Sharpton.

So what has Al done for black communities?

Update: Is Hillary black enough?

Update: Cornel West is not an Obama fan.

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