While the mob descends to feast upon the bones of Chip Saltsman, can we pause long enough to ask ourselves exactly why his action was offensive?
Let us begin with the expression "Magic Negro" -- a term of cultural criticism applied to a certain type of character in fiction, especially in movies, who serves a symbolic function as a helper to the white protagonist. (Richard Brookhiser has used the phrase "Numinous Negro" with a similar meaning.)
The evocative phrase "Magic Negro" was first applied to Barack Obama by Hollywood writer David Ehrenstein in a March 2007 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that concluded:
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.Ehrenstein's column provoked a lot of discussion at the time of its publication, and among those discussing it was Rush Limbaugh who -- if memory serves -- related Ehrenstein's analysis to the theme developed by Shelby Steele in his recent book, White Guilt.
At some point afterward, Shanklin adapted the phrase to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon" for a parody that featured Al Sharpton grousing about Obama's political success:
Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.Whatever its value as political analysis, Shanklin's song aptly summarizes a point made by Ehrenstein about the "is-he-black-enough" criticism that was being made of the Harvard-educated Obama in early 2007:
The L.A. 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.
The only mud that momentarily stuck was criticism (white and black alike) concerning Obama's alleged "inauthenticity," 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.Note the phrase, "Speaking as an African American" -- the author of the column that inspired the Shanklin parody is a black man himself! And, in case you didn't notice, the main point of the Shanklin parody was not to attack Obama, but to lampoon the envious reaction of Sharpton, as you can see from this one-minute video version: These facts would seem relevant to the question of whether the Shanklin song is objectively "racist." Of course, facts are not in the least relevant to the ritual denunciation of Chip Saltsman -- no Republican ever gets the benefit of the doubt in these sorts of controversies, so Saltsman's bones will be added to the same pile with the skeletal remains of Trent Lott and George Allen.
UPDATE: My memory of Limbaugh's monologue invoking Shelby Steele's book was accurate:
He's just there to assuage white guilt. In other words, the only reason Obama's anywhere is because whites are willing to support him because they feel so guilty over slavery. Now, before you reject this, Shelby Steele has written a great book about the whole concept of white guilt and how it is allowing our society to become more and more passive about any number of transgressions that the country has made from its inception.Limbaugh perhaps exaggerates Ehrenstein's argument (and Steele's) but not by much.
UPDATE II: A commenter anonymously asserts that Saltsman used the Obama song as a coded attack on two of his rivals for the RNC chair, Ken Blackwell and Michael Steele. If so, this attributes to RNC members a level of cryptogrammatic expertise I lack, as the possibility of such a motive never occurred to me. Saltsman himself says he and Shanklin are longtime friends, which seems a better explanation.
UPDATE III: Linked by Michelle Malkin, who references Peter Yarrow's outrage and comments:
All of sudden — after eight years of "F**k Bush" bumper stickers and "Kill Bush" assassination chic and Bush-or-Chimp parodies — the left is concerned about insulting the office of the Presidency?And it's not like Malkin's unfamiliar with how liberals use racial slurs when it suits their purpose.
UPDATE IV: Hmmmm. Allah does an "obligatory" post about the controversy . . . and doesn't link The Boss? As to Allah's point, yes, of course it is ridiculous for the Republican Party to invest resources in defending the use of "an archaic term." And as such, it was stupid of Saltsman to include the parody in his gift to RNC members. But how is it that Obama suffers no political consequence for spending 20 years in the pews of Rev. Jeremiah "God Damn America" Wright's church, while the entire GOP is irredeemably tainted because of one satirical tune by Paul Shanklin? Does this mean that Rush Limbaugh's 20 million listeners are also hatemongering bigots?
You've got to pick your fights, and I don't think this is a hill worth dying for -- I'd never even heard of Saltsman until this brouhaha erupted -- but if you never fight, you never win.
UPDATE V: Jammie Wearing Fool has some interesting observations on the Complete Moral Authority of Peter Yarrow, who was pardoned for his crime by President Carter. Hey, it's for the children.