2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Obama the Magic Negro!

 

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David Ehrenstein
The LA Times
March 19, 2007

AS EVERY CARBON-BASED life form on this planet surely knows, Barack Obama, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, is running for president. Since making his announcement, there has been no end of commentary about him in all quarters — musing over his charisma and the prospect he offers of being the first African American to be elected to the White House.

But it's clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination — the "Magic Negro."

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro . [Editor: Understanding the Magical Negro]

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."



Poitier really poured on the "magic" in "Lilies of the Field" (for which he won a best actor Oscar) and "To Sir, With Love" (which, along with "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," made him a No. 1 box-office attraction). In these films, Poitier triumphs through yeoman service to his white benefactors. "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is particularly striking in this regard, as it posits miscegenation without evoking sex. (Talk about magic!)

The same can't quite be said of Freeman in "Driving Miss Daisy," "Seven" and the seemingly endless series of films in which he plays ersatz paterfamilias to a white woman bedeviled by a serial killer. But at least he survives, unlike Crothers in "The Shining," in which psychic premonitions inspire him to rescue a white family he barely knows and get killed for his trouble. This heart-tug trope is parodied in Gus Van Sant's "Elephant." The film's sole black student at a Columbine-like high school arrives in the midst of a slaughter, helps a girl escape and is immediately gunned down. See what helping the white man gets you?

And what does the white man get out of the bargain? That's a question asked by John Guare in "Six Degrees of Separation," his brilliant retelling of the true saga of David Hampton — a young, personable gay con man who in the 1980s passed himself off as the son of none other than the real Sidney Poitier. Though he started small, using the ruse to get into Studio 54, Hampton discovered that countless gullible, well-heeled New Yorkers, vulnerable to the Magic Negro myth, were only too eager to believe in his baroque fantasy. (One of the few who wasn't fooled was Andy Warhol, who was astonished his underlings believed Hampton's whoppers. Clearly Warhol had no need for the accouterment of interracial "goodwill.")

But the same can't be said of most white Americans, whose desire for a noble, healing Negro hasn't faded. That's where Obama comes in: as Poitier's "real" fake son.

The senator's famously stem-winding stump speeches have been drawing huge crowds to hear him talk of uniting rather than dividing. A praiseworthy goal. Consequently, even the mild criticisms thrown his way have been waved away, "magically." He used to smoke, but now he doesn't; he racked up a bunch of delinquent parking tickets, but he paid them all back with an apology. And hey, is looking good in a bathing suit a bad thing?

The only mud that momentarily stuck was criticism (white and black alike) concerning Obama's alleged "inauthenticty," as compared to such sterling examples of "genuine" blackness as Al Sharpton and Snoop Dogg. Speaking as an African American whose last name has led to his racial "credentials" being challenged — often several times a day — I know how pesky this sort of thing can be.

Obama's fame right now has little to do with his political record or what he's written in his two (count 'em) books, or even what he's actually said in those stem-winders. It's the way he's said it that counts the most. It's his manner, which, as presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Biden ham-fistedly reminded us, is "articulate." His tone is always genial, his voice warm and unthreatening, and he hasn't called his opponents names (despite being baited by the media).

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.

 

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Same level:
The Obama Bargain ] Barack Obama’s Speech on Race ] What Made Obama's Speech Great ] The Obama version of 'we shall overcome' ] Obama, Imperialism and the Paradox of Plenty amid Poverty ] Bringing race to the forefront ] If President, What Do White People Think Obama Will Do To Them? ] Obama's racing the wrong way ] Obama: The Attacks Have Only Just Begun ] Obama Race Speech Analysis by 14 Blackcommentator.com ] Can Obama avoid being the 'black candidate'? ] Defying Conventional Wisdom on Race and Politics ] Obama's rhetoric, American realities ] Barack Obama: Can he deliver? ] Obama Beer  (VIDEO) ] Obama: An Emotional Escape Hatch from the Bush Era ] And Now Obama? Critical support ] Obama's real fairy tale ] The Obama Effect: challenging the rules of race and politics ] Obama should be a colour-blind president ] Holding Barack Obama Accountable ] The Obama Messiah Watch ] Barack Obama's Messiah Complex ] [ Obama the Magic Negro! ] Gay Inclusion - Obama Playing Us Stupid ] Obama’s Identity Crisis ] Barack the Magic Negro ] Even to a conservative, there's hope for a President Obama ] O'Reilly: "I don't want to go on a lynching party * *  * unless * *  * ] Presidental Racism (VIDEO) ] Seismic Shift in Racial Politics ] Michelle Obama thesis was on racial divide ] Where is the Critical Thinking in this Campaign 2008? ] Race affects politics ] Obama’s White Male Voters ] Capitulation is the order of the day ] Obamarama: Is it a Movement? Or is it Marketing? ] Obama: "Wall Street's Presidential Brand" ] Obama Chastise Blacks to Allay Jewish Concerns ] Obama denounces pastor's comments ] Obama's Backpeddling is Just Starting ] Obama, Fractals and Momentum Politics ] Obama Played the Race Card ] Deeply troubled by Obama  racial politics ] The Political Wonder That Is Obama ] Barack: Back and Forth Voter ] What Obama Means By Unity ] Pundits blind to Obamas America ] Which bias runs deeper in the American psyche? ] Obama offers U.S. a chance to do its racial laundry ] Obama as "Honorary White Man" ] David Brooks on Republican Support of Obama ] West, Bennet, Ogletree on Obama (VIDEO) ] Seeking Unity, Obama Feels Pull of Racial Divide ] Do some people think Obama is an honorary white man? ] The dynamism and the danger of Obama ] Barack Obama and the Euphoria of Madness ] Jewish Leader  to Obama : ‘Confront Your Pastor’ ] Obama Photos Album ] Community Activist, Obama and the Few Bad Apples ] Analysis: Obama's Health Care Plan (VIDEO) ] Obama: Bamboozling America ] Obama a Contemporary Don Quixote? ] Obama, Fat Tuesday and the Big Hangover ] Obama vs. the Phobocracy. ] VIDEO - Obama Speech in Kenya ] Playing the Race Card ] Putting faith in Obama ] SubPrime Obama ] VIDEO - Yes We Can! ] What to Expect from an Obama White House ] Why Republicans Like Obama ] Fox Attacks Obama! ] Obama And The Bigots ] Let's face the music: there is an Obama in the GOP's future ] Obama's black support shows its limits ] Obama: Black president or “irrational exuberance”? ] IS endorsing Barack Obama the new cool? ] Tennesee GOP Backs off statement ]
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January 2008 ] February 2008 ] August 2008 Updates ]
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Always Under Construction!

Always Under Construction!

Copyright @ 2008
Vernellia Randall. All Rights Reserved

 
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, some material on this website is provided for comment, background information, research and/or educational purposes only, without permission from the copyright owner(s), under the "fair use" provisions of the federal copyright laws. These materials may not be distributed for other purposes without permission of the copyright owner(s).

 


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 CANDIDATES
DEMOCRATIC                   x
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This website is always under construction please email me  relevant links related to any of the candidates or to race and racism and the election.
SELECT A CANDIDATE SURVEYS
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Same level:
The Obama Bargain ] Barack Obama’s Speech on Race ] What Made Obama's Speech Great ] The Obama version of 'we shall overcome' ] Obama, Imperialism and the Paradox of Plenty amid Poverty ] Bringing race to the forefront ] If President, What Do White People Think Obama Will Do To Them? ] Obama's racing the wrong way ] Obama: The Attacks Have Only Just Begun ] Obama Race Speech Analysis by 14 Blackcommentator.com ] Can Obama avoid being the 'black candidate'? ] Defying Conventional Wisdom on Race and Politics ] Obama's rhetoric, American realities ] Barack Obama: Can he deliver? ] Obama Beer  (VIDEO) ] Obama: An Emotional Escape Hatch from the Bush Era ] And Now Obama? Critical support ] Obama's real fairy tale ] The Obama Effect: challenging the rules of race and politics ] Obama should be a colour-blind president ] Holding Barack Obama Accountable ] The Obama Messiah Watch ] Barack Obama's Messiah Complex ] [ Obama the Magic Negro! ] Gay Inclusion - Obama Playing Us Stupid ] Obama’s Identity Crisis ] Barack the Magic Negro ] Even to a conservative, there's hope for a President Obama ] O'Reilly: "I don't want to go on a lynching party * *  * unless * *  * ] Presidental Racism (VIDEO) ] Seismic Shift in Racial Politics ] Michelle Obama thesis was on racial divide ] Where is the Critical Thinking in this Campaign 2008? ] Race affects politics ] Obama’s White Male Voters ] Capitulation is the order of the day ] Obamarama: Is it a Movement? Or is it Marketing? ] Obama: "Wall Street's Presidential Brand" ] Obama Chastise Blacks to Allay Jewish Concerns ] Obama denounces pastor's comments ] Obama's Backpeddling is Just Starting ] Obama, Fractals and Momentum Politics ] Obama Played the Race Card ] Deeply troubled by Obama  racial politics ] The Political Wonder That Is Obama ] Barack: Back and Forth Voter ] What Obama Means By Unity ] Pundits blind to Obamas America ] Which bias runs deeper in the American psyche? ] Obama offers U.S. a chance to do its racial laundry ] Obama as "Honorary White Man" ] David Brooks on Republican Support of Obama ] West, Bennet, Ogletree on Obama (VIDEO) ] Seeking Unity, Obama Feels Pull of Racial Divide ] Do some people think Obama is an honorary white man? ] The dynamism and the danger of Obama ] Barack Obama and the Euphoria of Madness ] Jewish Leader  to Obama : ‘Confront Your Pastor’ ] Obama Photos Album ] Community Activist, Obama and the Few Bad Apples ] Analysis: Obama's Health Care Plan (VIDEO) ] Obama: Bamboozling America ] Obama a Contemporary Don Quixote? ] Obama, Fat Tuesday and the Big Hangover ] Obama vs. the Phobocracy. ] VIDEO - Obama Speech in Kenya ] Playing the Race Card ] Putting faith in Obama ] SubPrime Obama ] VIDEO - Yes We Can! ] What to Expect from an Obama White House ] Why Republicans Like Obama ] Fox Attacks Obama! ] Obama And The Bigots ] Let's face the music: there is an Obama in the GOP's future ] Obama's black support shows its limits ] Obama: Black president or “irrational exuberance”? ] IS endorsing Barack Obama the new cool? ] Tennesee GOP Backs off statement ]
Child Level:
Home ] Up ]
Parent Level:
January 2008 ] February 2008 ] August 2008 Updates ]
Units:
[Race and Racial Groups] [Citizenship Rights]  [Justice and Race] [Patterns of Basic Needs] [Intersectionality Issues] [Human Rights]

Always Under Construction!

Always Under Construction!

Copyright @ 2008
Vernellia Randall. All Rights Reserved

 
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, some material on this website is provided for comment, background information, research and/or educational purposes only, without permission from the copyright owner(s), under the "fair use" provisions of the federal copyright laws. These materials may not be distributed for other purposes without permission of the copyright owner(s).

 


Last Updated:
Tuesday, April 07, 2009  

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