PARSING BARACK THE MAGIC NEGRO.

I've been reading defenses of Rush Limbaugh's "Barack, The Magic Negro" on right wing blogs for a while now and I often get the impression that the people defending the song as satire don't actually get the point, and that they've never actually read David Ehrenstein's original op-ed. Take for example, Rick Moran, who sounds like he's writing promotional copy for conservative satirist Paul Shanklin:

The latest blow up involves a Rush Limbaugh parody that first surfaced on his show during the campaign. “Barack the Magic Negro,” an edgy satire of Obama’s celebrity and popularity with white voters that was written by Paul Shanklin and played numerous times on Rush’s show. (The term ‘Barack the Magic Negro” was first used in an Los Angeles Times column by cultural critic David Ehrenstein – a fact that the parody makes mention of. Ehrenstein is a white liberal.)

From Ehrenstein's original op-ed:

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.

So yeah, Ehrenstein can't be a white liberal, because he has his hands full being black. The song also wasn't a satire of Obama's "popularity" with white voters, it was a satire of the motivations of guilty white liberals in making Obama popular. The use of Al Sharpton is meant to mock the jealousy of established black leadership at Obama's rise, particularly the arbitrary barriers of racial authenticity placed in his way. I hasten to add that not only was Sharpton's jealousy an invention of the New York Post and their anonymous sources, (the opposite was true) but that concerns with Obama's racial authenticity were very much an interest conservative whites and their black surrogates.

Erick Erickson joins in on the fail:

The columnist, an African-American, came up with the term and Rush Limbaugh had Paul Shanklin sing it in Al Sharpton’s voice. In the twenty years of Rush Limbaugh’s show, I venture to say there has never been a funnier parody.

There is absolutely nothing racist about the song, but the race baiters of the world love to think there is. The added humor is that the song accurately captures the problems of the race baiters in American with Obama as President.

"The Magic Negro" was most definitely not introduced as a term by David Ehrenstein. But you don't have to take a film class or my word for it to know that, because in his original column, Ehrenstein explains where he got the term (citing that elusive source known as Wikipedia):

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'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.

There's never been a funnier parody, Erickson says, but this guy doesn't even get the joke, and has no idea of the cultural forces that produced a widely used term that he attributes to a columnist whose column he hasn't read. The song isn't about "race baiters in American with Obama as president," because the parody was introduced in March of 2007, when few people really believed Obama would cruise to a victory in the general election with 365 electoral votes. The song is an attempted satire of liberal white guilt and the jealousy of established black leadership, but it's an utter failure, for one big reason: The intended audience is itself too dense and ignorant to even come close to getting Ehrenstein's point. Like good little ditto-bots, they defend the song as parody, they just can't tell you what it means.Their defenses of the song amount to complaints that everyone else is too dumb to get the brilliance of a satire that is beyond their capacity to explain. Which forces one to ask the question, if they don't get the joke, what exactly do they think is so damn funny?

"Barack The Magic Negro". It almost sounds like nigger, get it?

Isn't it fun-ny?


-- A. Serwer

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