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Friday, May 4, 2007

Another Perspective on the "Magic Negro" Debate, by Francis L. Holland, Esq.

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"Magic?" What other kind of "Negro" could become the first Black president of the United States?

By Francis L. Holland, Esq., cross-posted at my blog.

I'm not in the United States, so I don't have the "pleasure" of watching Rush Limbaugh on television. But, Eddie G. Griffin (BASG) tells me that Rush Limbaugh is calling Barack Obama the "Magic Negro," and Exodus Mentality and Afro-Netizen confirm this. I've seen the video. I'm glad Imus got canned and I hope Limbaugh gets canned too, but I'm not really offended by this.

I know this "Magic Negro" thing is driving a lot of us crazy, but I like the term "Magic Negro." Let's face it! What other kind of "Negro" could hope to become the first Black president of the United States?

Surely, Rush Limbaugh is trying to remind America that Obama is Black, certain in the conviction that this fact alone will be enough to turn the electorate against him. But, I think most Americans already know that Obama is Black and many are supporting him anyway, precisely because of Obama's special way of being Black, even a unique way of being human.

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Black Commentator

After ignoring Black politicians for centuries, the Rush Limbaughs of the world now feel compelled by circumstances to run a video that features not one but TWO Black politicians, with an additional cameo by Jesse Jackson. In this case, I think this is a sign of progress.

Says Afro-Netizen,

The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. "He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist," reads the description on Wikipedia.

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.

As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic — embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle. And that's not to mention a certain basketball player whose very nickname is "Magic." Afro-Netizen

So, I know Rush means this as an insult, but I see it as a compliment and a recommendation that might actually do some good. "Magic" is a synonym for "extraordinary," only better. And Barack Obama IS extraordinary, having graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, as the editor of the Harvard Law Review. Regardless of demographic group, there aren't more than fifty people alive in the United States right now who have achieved that distinction.

Perhaps, Rush Limbaugh says "Magic Negro" with a tinge of envious resentment, but the fact is that Obama IS magical to a lot of people, apparently regardless of color, or precisely because of his special achievements in spite of his color, like Tiger Woods. For most golfers - white and Black alike - it would certainly seem like "magic" if they could have just one day on the links as good as Tiger's last five years.

Now, who is being ridiculed in this video? The video acknowledges the tremendous affection white people have for Barack Obama and the video may even accurately point out one of the reasons why: Even while acknowledging American realities, Barack doesn't arouse white people's guilt over all the wrongs they've done.

The video mostly ridicules the Reverend Al Sharpton, but the questions raised are legitimately ones that a lot of Black people and white people are sorting through right now.

Ultimately, I think this video may help Barack with white people, because it underscores the perception that Barack is not "too Black" (like Al Sharpton) to be accepted by hyper-scared whites. (Criticisms of Barack for not being Black enough actually help him to pick up three votes among whites for every vote that he might lose among Blacks based on this perception.)

But, I think the "not Black enough" meme is not sticking because of Barack's civil rights work in Illinois, his work with the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, and his work to require videotaping of confessions in capital cases, and stop "racial" profiling, are all things that Black people think are very important.

It is not inconceivable that Obama could have the same magic in American politics that Tiger Woods has had on the golf court and that "Magic Johnson" had in basketball. But golf is an objective sport, where everyone must meet the same standards regardless of color, while politics is one in which a candidate's achievement depend on the subjective assessments of donors, voters and the media. Blacks, once permitted to compete, tend to do better in areas fields like sports, where our achievements are measured in objective ways, like the length of our drives and the accuracy of our putts. It is much harder for us when our achievement is measured by our subjective ability to convince whites to like and have faith in us.

So far, though, Barack Obama seems to being doing quite well with those three groups who must have a positive subjective assessment of him - donors, voters and the media - if he is to have success on the national scene. Objective measures like polls, contributions and media attention tell us that Barack is doing well with white America subjectively.

The "Magic Negro" monicker may even help us to understand how whites are appreciating psychologically the prospect of living in a nation nominally led by a Black man. Using Hollywood films as a prism through which to understand the white psyche as related to Blacks, the Black Commentator says,

"Historically, if a black person is thrust into a white universe, it is inevitable that the white people will become a better person," says Thomas Cripps, author of "Making Movies Black: The Hollywood Message Movie from World War II to the Civil Rights Era" and other books on African American cinema. "Sidney Poitier spent his whole career in this position. Sidney actually carried the cross for Jesus in 'The Greatest Story Ever Told.'"

In 1943 alone, black men became the moral conscience of white characters in four World War II movies: "Sahara, " "Bataan," "Crash Dive" and "Life Boat." Black Commentator

If some whites want to elect Obama to be their conscience, like Martin Luther King, Jr., I see that as a positive thing. So, I say, "Go ahead and call Barack Obama the 'Magic Negro.' " If he turns out to have half the magic in the voting booths that Tiger Woods has on the golf course, than there may be no other word except "magic" that can describe Barack Obama's future accomplishments.

And I can even feel a little bit of pity and compassion for Rush Limbaugh, because I think I understand his plight. It must be really humbling to be Rush Limbaugh and to know that you could never achieve what Barack Obama has academically and politically - not even on your best day, not even as white man.

1 comment:

  1. For those raced white who I know personally, not a one has stated they would vote for Obama.

    I have been in groups where some raced whites support Obama and others want to know more about him.

    I think I have found a great total of at least three who said yes.

    I hear things, like if he had more experience. He is a black Man. It's the woman turns. He is not black. They will kill him before they would let him be president.

    This is from adults. You just can't make that horse drink I tell ya.