The “Barack the Magic Negro” controversy

The blogosphere and the punditocracy both have erupted with commentary in light of the controversy over reports that Chip Saltsman, who has thrown his hat into the ring to become the new RNC Chair, sent a parody CD to RNC members before the Christmas holiday that included conservative satirist Paul Shanklin’s “Barack the Magic Negro.” From The Hill:

Saltsman, in a Christmas greeting to RNC members, send a CD that included the song about the president-elect as well as other tracks lampooning liberals that were written by conservative satirist Paul Shanklin. “Barack the Magic Negro” was presented to a broad audience by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

When The Hill first reported about the CD, Saltsman noted that “Paul Shanklin is a long-time friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are light-hearted political parodies.”

Jim Geraghty hits the right note here, explaining that the song itself is not racist (nor is it “mean-spirited” for that matter) and that in fact the idea for it came from the liberally biased LA Times in an op/ed piece that first used the term about a year and a half ago to describe Obama. All the same, Geraghty notes why the selection of the CD by Saltsman was a bad idea in retrospect:

One can explain a joke, but one can’t save it. Yes, in the song, Shanklin is imitating a jealous Al Sharpton denouncing Obama as inauthentic, and the title is inspired by the Hollywood’s late-1990s obsession with depicting mystically or spiritually attuned African-American characters who suddenly appear on the horizon to nurture the moral development of white protagonists — Lawrence Fishburne in The Matrix, Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance, Don Cheadle in The Family Man, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, almost any character played by Morgan Freeman. (Lyrics to the song can be found here.)

And yes, it’s strange to see the term “negro” suddenly almost as leaden with moral risk as the other n-word, and we need not be reminded that the United Negro College Fund retains its original name (although the term rarely appears on the web site of the organization, identified mostly as UNCF).

“Negro” is, if not offensive, archaic. The use of the term in the title and chorus detracts from the point of the song, which is Sharpton’s jealousy, and/or the perception that Obama is portrayed in the vein of all of those Hollywood characters — mysterious, appearing on the horizon, attuned to deep spiritual truths and offering a seemingly magical healing touch.


If you want to win over African-American voters to your party, perhaps the first step is to figure out why the title “Barack the Magic Negro” would offend them. Few would be offended by a song called “Barack the Magic Chicagoan” or “Barack the Magic Politician”; the use of the term “negro” specifically identifies him by his skin color, which makes it appear that his skin color is what’s being held up for ridicule, not the perception that he’s magical. It’s easy to see a song that appears to be mocking someone for his skin color as inconsistent with judging people by the content of their character.

If you’re going to send a gift to all RNC members, that gift is going to say a lot about you. I had said about Katon Dawson that the measure of a man is more than his country club membership; the measure of Chip Saltsman is a lot more than a song on a CD he sent as a Christmas gift. But this is an entirely unforced error, giving those who wish to portray the GOP as racially insensitive a cheap and easy example to add to their arsenal.

Paul Mirengoff adds:

Media double standards (if that’s what we’re witnessing here) are a reality the next RNC head (indeed, the next dozen) will have to deal with. Republicans need a chairman with the maturity and judgment to avoid subjecting himself, and by extension our party, to easy shots by our enemies. The RNC chair we need would have responded to Shanklin’s parody with, at most, a private chuckle.

There’s no question that there are going to be a number of controversial issues that will inevitably be discussed and debated over the coming years that are going to generate “outrage” amongst the usual suspects, topics that the GOP routinely get dumped all over for addressing (affirmative action, gay marriage, sex ed, etc) and in those areas we’ll need to stand our ground and not bow to the winds of political correctness. But on the issue of “Barack the Magic Negro” as it relates to a potential RNC Chair (rather than a columnist or talk radio host), it’s all about perception, and unfortunately for Saltsman, the parody – while not worthy of the “outrage” being displayed by those on the left and right – pushes the limits of “defensible.”

AllahPundit sums up:

There are perhaps principles so important that it’s worth risking the party’s viability to defend them — strong borders, an end to bailoutmania — but the use of an archaic term like “Negro” that’s disfavored by blacks doesn’t strike me as one of them. If you disagree and think the real principle here is resisting an ever-expanding Orwellian universe of “unacceptable” terms, fair enough. But be prepared to divert party resources from other business to try to convince blacks that they shouldn’t feel uneasy about words that cause them unease.

All while trying to expand the tent, of course.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the ideological spectrum, any updates on how Al Sharpton’s “Bury the N-Word” campaign is going? I didn’t think so. Mark that as another gone and forgotten “promise” made by one of the Democrats’ favorite race hustlers, another one he won’t be called on.

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