Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Race-Based Campaigning: Widening The Gulf

Yesterday, the LAT did what no conservative publication could have done, at least without being labeled as racists and hatemongers. They chose to characterize Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as, "The Magic Negro".

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 .

Where to begin, where to begin?

First of all, anyone can put anything on Wikipedia. It's good for basic shortcuts to explain things quickly. But as a valid source of real and true information, it must be held into question. I have never heard of the myth, personally. I have never heard of it spoken of, before now. (That doesn't mean it hasn't been around before now, I just haven't heard of it.)

Secondly, despite what many may believe, there is a storm brewing in the Democratic Party. This was supposed to be Hillary's moment in the sun. And then, here comes this bright young man that defies stereotypes and myths, has an certain outsider status, can raise money, and has a following already in place just by making an announcement. Sure, she is leading him by a goodly amount. But on the other hand, he's on her heels and she doesn't like it one bit. For this reason, one must expect there will be some animosity developing, as evidenced from some of the tactics being used.

Recently, I posted this piece for which I drew some pretty sharp rebukes. It deals with the Obama "madrassa story" and despite the time that has passed, we still cannot rule out Hillary's camp as a source. A carefully placed leak into the hands of FOX News got that ball rolling. And even though it was later debunked, the seed of doubt was planted.

Then, there was this leak to the NYT about some potential influence-peddling by Obama, whereby, Hillary's camp could be the source. But, there is a lack of hard evidence to support this. And again, the seed of doubt has been sewn.

Along with this ridiculous essay printed by the LAT, there has been an unauthorized campaign ad released on the internet. The media seem to be scurrying to find the source of this one, but so far has been unable to do so. I heard one person theorize that it was Hillary herself. Why? So she could blame Obama. Now, I am not that cynical, nor am I inclined to believe Hillary would do a hit on herself just so she could paint Obama as a dirty campaigner. But, there is another possibility people are overlooking in these early hit jobs.

Who would benefit greatly if there was a bloody primary fight that threatened the unity of the party? If the party was greatly divided along the racial lines that this campaign is so far moving toward, who would be there to pick up the pieces to save the party from themselves? The answer should not be so hard to figure out. In the dog eat dog world of politics, one cannot rule out these things as being the work of those that still hope Al Gore will step up to the plate, if there is much dissension within the ranks of the Democrats.

Far-fetched? Maybe, but maybe not. Hillary and Obama are busy raising money while battle lines are being drawn, in both subtle and not so subtle ways. As the campaign wears on, the divide will grow. And with hit jobs like the LAT piece calling Obama "The Magic Negro", it clearly demonstrates that unity along racial lines is very much at stake.


Greg said...

That is absolutely unbelievable, LAS. I don't read Pravda-West, so I missed the article. Thanks for pointing it out to us.

I find the race/gender aspect to the Democratic race really distasteful. I don't care that Obama is white or black or whatever he is. And I don't care that Hillary is "proud to be a woman" (how profound!). It's sad that even now, with our country at war on many fronts, many people are basing their decision for President upon what's between the candidates' legs and the color of their skin. MLK told us we should be more concerned with the content of their character, and he was right.

Also, interesting theory on Gore being the source for that 1984-style Hillary hit. I had not thought of that. Clearly, someone spent a substantial amount of money putting it together. We'll never find out who did it, but it's fun to speculate.

LASunsett said...

You are welcome Greg.

The thing I find interesting is that blacks will often vote Democratic because they feel Dems understand their plight far better than the GOP. Well as we are seeing, this is not always the case. How many times do we hear that a person is not black enough?

I know a lady at work who is sweetest lady in the world, I love her to death and have known her for years. She is black. She and I tease each other at every opportunity for just about anything. One day we were talking about Colin Powell making a good President. She didn't think so. So, I asked her, why? She, being the good Democrat that she is, started to tap dance around the answer, when I abruptly answered her question for her. I said, "he's not black enough, is he? She emphatically said, yes.

Now we have Barack Obama and evidently he's not black enough for some, either. So, I must pose the question, what's "black enough"? Must it be a blowhard civil rights leader like an Al Sharpton or a Jesse Jackson, whose jobs both depend on racism or the manufacturing of such, to justify their own positions?

David Ehrenstein is a black Hollywood writer that focuses on gay issues and how gays are depicted in films. Hillary is the candidate that gays appear to like more, because of her support on same-sex marriages. Hence, I think we can see why the article on "The Magic Negro".

One doesn't need to look much further than this article for validation that racism is alive and well in the Democratic party. Anyone that followed the race for the US Senate from Maryland last year, knows all too well of the double standards put forth by the Democratic Party.

This article by Ehrenstein just solidifies it.

ms. miami said...

lasunsett- this is a real object of study in literature, film. the 'magical negro' is a trope, just like the 'beastial negro' was a trope in world war ii propaganda.

(i worked on an exhibition regarding this trope. you can find info here:


some cinema examples of 'the magical negro' are that film with tom hanks about execution and another recent one where will smith was a 'magical' caddy (sorry, i quickly forget the names of hollywood films).

sure, it's disgusting, but part of what scholars do is analyze the disgusting bits of our society.

whether this trope can directly correspond to the image/coverage to mr. obama is, of course, up for debate.

LASunsett said...

Hi MsM,

As always thanks for the input. Of the countless books I have read over my many years, I had never heard of this expression. It just goes to show that one can still learn something new, every now and then.

I could be wrong, but what this article tells me is, Obama is not black enough. I find this attitude among people to be a matter of great concern.

Don't get me wrong here, I don't support Obama. Despite the fact that I can respect him for his character (which is relatively sound in comparison to other politicians of our day), he is far too ideologically liberal for my tastes.

But, to subvert his cause based on the fact that some may not think him to be black enough, is an outrage. At least in my opinion, it is.

A.C. McCloud said...

Nice analysis, LA. This is gonna be one brutal primary season.

BTW, I think there's something to the "magic Negro" thing--in some Hollywood minds, not real life (that's not to say blacks aren't good magicians, mind you). It's an attempt to 'correct' the ignorant population's perceived stereotypes about race by creating a stereotype.

LASunsett said...


//It's an attempt to 'correct' the ignorant population's perceived stereotypes about race by creating a stereotype.//

This is a very good point.

ms. miami said...

could be wrong, but what this article tells me is, Obama is not black enough. I find this attitude among people to be a matter of great concern.

lasunsett- i agree that this is problematic. unfortunately, many african-americans deal with this every day. i have a friend who finds herself regularly accused of not having the appropriate mentality for "her race." fortunately, she is mature and secure enough to pay little attention.

la/ac mccloud- by the way, hollywood did not particularly "invent" this trope, it exists in literature as well (i don't think that much literary activity happens in los angeles).

there is a whole field of literature and theory dedicated to one's construction of "the other," regarding the evolution of tropes over the centuries.

edward said's seminal work, "orientalism," provided an influential theoretical base with regard to the western construction of the middle eastern "other," for example.