Monday, December 29, 2008

Barack the Magic Negro

Big furor over a video making the rounds, Barack the Magic Negro, a parody of Puff the Magic Dragon.  The tune satirically takes makes the case from the point of view of Reverend Al Sharpton that Barack Obama is an "acceptable Black man" compared to himself.

Though the piece was initially distrubuted as part of what was thought to be a joke by some dinosaur Republicans down South, it's actually based on an essay about Obama in the LA Times almost two years ago.

The story by David Ehrenstein paints the President-Elect and then underdog candidate in the archetype of what's referred to as "the magical negro,"  which Wikipedia describes as a "mystical stock character in fiction who, by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist get out of trouble." Indeed as Ehrenstein points out Obama as a real life "magical Negro" is "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."  Certainly Whites can feel comfortable voting for Obama over previous candidates such as Shartpon or Reverend Jesse Jackson who have darker skin and unlike Obama's cosmpolitan upbringing had a more typical African American upbrining in "the hood" scare Whites, regardless of their degree of simpicato with their politics and can't bring themselves to vote for them.

This is a tough pill to swallow but Barack the Magic Negro -  even if it was unintentional on the creator's part  - brings up these uncomfortable realities about race relations.  That even in a post-racial word many Whites are indeed drawn to the "magic negro" that they can warm to and hope erases any innate bias they may still have.

The good news is that as society becomes even more diverse old stereotypes will fall away and distinctions will blur.  And to a degree, the election of Barack Obama helps to that end helping to erase the racism of some whom opposed him and the guilt of some of who supported him.

By the way Ehrenstein isn't thrilled with Barack Obama these days, primarily over his selection of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration.