“Barack The Magic Negro,” the parody that will not die, is back in the news, because short-sighted Tennessee Republican Chip Saltsman (yes, you’ve probably never heard of him but he was Mike Huckabee’s campaign manager and supposedly has his eye on the RNC chairmanship) included it on a holiday CD that he distributed to members of the RNC. In case you’re not familiar with Paul Shanklin’s acerbic critique of Rev. Al Sharpton and the racial grievance racket that he commands, here is a portion of it. Shanklin, as “Rev. Al,” sings:
Barack the Magic Negro lives in D. C.
The LA Times they called him that
‘Cause he’s not authentic like me
Yeah, the guy from the L.A. paper
Said he makes guilty whites feel good
They’ll vote for him, and not for me
‘Cause he’s not from the hood.
See, real black men, like Snoop Dog,
Or me, or Farrakhan
Have talked the talk, and walked the walk.
Not come in late and won!
It is indeed a funny parody, but in order to understand why its funny, the listener must know quite a bit about Rev. Al Sharpton (the megaphone, the race baiting), the prior disdain for Barack Obama by Bobby Rush and the legacy Chicago civil rights community, and what a “magic negro” is, preferably by reading David Ehrenstein’s LA Times piece. That’s a whole lot to ask of anyone who isn’t a regular listener to conservative talk radio or a regular reader of conservative blogs or periodicals. Without that knowledge base, the average person will simply zero in on the word “negro.”
“Negro” is not blacklisted like the other “n-word,” but at the very least its cultural significance has been reduced to an antiquated symbol of the days before Civil Rights. Even though some defiant blacks like Stanley Crouch still use it, it is no longer in the lexicon of contemporary speech. And unlike the other “n-word,” which has experienced an Afro-centric revival due to a cutesy new spelling and its acceptance by a defiant cult of youth, it is doubtful that using the word “negro” will ever be hip.
Therefore it is easy to assume that Shanklin’s song is nothing more than old-school racial stereotyping. The press is also happy to enhance that misconception. Reports on the controversy rarely include meaningful excerpts from the song (similar to the way many newspapers refused to print the “Mohamed cartoons”), or an indication that the parody is being sung by “Al Sharpton.”
The world in which we live today has in fact attached a magical “gee, I wish I could be more like them” quality to African Americans. Perhaps this is because surviving the days before Civil Rights endowed them with a lot of fortitude and patience, traits that our current generation sadly lacks, and probably longs to recapture. But since those days, African American culture has stumbled quite a few times, particularly in embracing the drug culture and affirming some questionable self-appointed “leaders.” This is a fair target for criticism and satire, and African Americans themselves recognize it and have lampooned it effectively. (link has NSFW language)
Yet white liberal intellectuals, journalists, and entertainers want no part of that, and the elite New York Times worshiping crowd is quick to pounce on any perceived slight of African Americans, though they tend to go more lightly on the offenders when they seem to be hip. But if you are unhip (and Republicans are permanently dogged by a big flashing neon sign that says UNHIP) then you are doomed. Even if there is no controversy, offended white liberals will go out of their way to create one.
In the arena of politics, complicated arguments, particularly if they run contrary to the tides of popular culture, are always losers. I am reminded of the numerous YouTube commercials posted by the McCain campaign that conservative bloggers praised as “hard hitting” and “thought provoking,” and yet they fell flat among the general public. Even if you are correct in your reasoning, if voters think that they will be perceived as callous or unsympathetic by supporting you, then you will never receive a majority of votes. That’s just the way things are, and Republicans need to accept this.
Republicans win when they offer good ideas (The Contract with America) or an inspired vision for a better tomorrow (the 1980 Reagan campaign). They lose when they try to be persuasive and heavy-handed. That’s like trying to save your best friend’s soul by making him watch “A Thief In The Night.”
Chip Saltsman deserves to be castigated because he seems to be too culturally tone deaf to ever lead the RNC. As for Paul Shanklin, laugh with him on your own time, but don’t make him the spokesman for American conservatism.