Barack the Magic Negro
|"Barack the Magic Negro"|
|Song by Paul Shanklin from the album We Hate the USA|
|Released||September 23, 2008
(Discontinued by the manufacturer)
|Label||Goes Around Records|
"Barack the Magic Negro" is a song by American political satirist Paul Shanklin who wrote and recorded it for the Rush Limbaugh Show as satire after the title phrase was first applied to presidential candidate Obama by movie and culture critic David Ehrenstein in a Los Angeles Times op ed column of March 19, 2007. It was played numerous times in 2007 and 2008 by Rush Limbaugh and appeared on the 2008 album We Hate the USA. It is sung by Shanklin to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon". Shanklin impersonates black activist Al Sharpton, who regretfully sings that white people will vote for Barack Obama for President instead of Sharpton, because Obama is a magical Negro (a term previously popularized by Spike Lee), not a real black man from the "hood".
Limbaugh was criticized and accused of racism for playing the song. The controversy was reignited in December 2008, when Chip Saltsman, a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent out CDs containing the song to 168 other RNC members as a Christmas gift, hoping to bolster his 2009 campaign for RNC chair. The move backfired, Saltsman dropped his bid to head the RNC, and ultimately African-American Republican Michael Steele won the chairmanship.
The magical Negro is an archetype that was first applied to presidential candidate Obama by movie and culture critic David Ehrenstein, in a Los Angeles Times op ed column of March 19, 2007. According to Ehrenstein, the magical Negro is a non threatening black hero in the popular media, usually the cinema, who was invented to ease feelings of white guilt over slavery and racial injustice. He is noble and devoid of sexual motives, and appears suddenly, out of nowhere, to magically solve the problems of white people.
Ehrenstein opined that "Obama's fame right now has little to do with his political record or what he's written in his two books, or even what he's actually said". Rather, Obama was a popular contender for the presidency because whites were projecting their "fantasies of curative black benevolence" on him.
Limbaugh began discussing Ehrenstein's op ed on the day it was published. He declared that "The term 'Magic Negro' has been thrown into the political presidential race in the mix for 2008" and sang a brief rendition of "Barack the Magic Negro" to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon", anticipating the Shanklin song, which he began to air the following day. He said he would "own" the term by the end of the week. Limbaugh played the song numerous times throughout the 2008 presidential election season.
The song's lyrics, sung in a voice impersonating black activist and former presidential candidate Al Sharpton, explicitly refer to Ehrenstein's article:
- "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.
In the song, Sharpton's impersonated voice is made to sound as if coming from a bullhorn, a satirical nod to his well-known participation in street protests.
In response to criticisms that the song had racist overtones, Limbaugh noted that he was not the first person to apply the magic Negro moniker to Obama, David Ehrenstein was. Limbaugh also argued that Ehrenstein had not been criticized for his op ed because he was a black man and a member of the liberal media establishment, therefore, double standards were being applied to conservative commentary.
Political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson called the song "crass, tasteless, and race tinged, but ... accurate." Camille Paglia of Salon.com called the song "very daring and funny", although she claimed that Limbaugh had overplayed it.
Al Sharpton discussed the song with a New York Times reporter and stated: "Limbaugh puts things in a way that he can’t be blamed for easy bigotry. Some of the songs he does about me just make me laugh. But he’s the most dangerous guy we have to deal with on the right".
Peter Yarrow, who co-wrote the original song "Puff the Magic Dragon" condemned the parody as "shocking and saddening in the extreme," stating that "taking a children's song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism… Puff, himself, if asked, would certainly agree."
Distribution of CDs by Chip Saltsman
In December 2008, Chip Saltsman, who was campaigning for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC), mailed the song on a "Christmas CD" to fellow RNC members who would soon be selecting their new national chairman. Saltsman's campaign imploded as a result of the controversy, he withdrew from the race, and Michael Steele, an African American, was elected.
- "We Hate The USA (2008)". The 2009 edition of the CD does not contain "Barack the Magic Negro" and is not currently available - "We Hate The USA (2009)".
- Paul Shanklin. "Barack the Magic Negro". Rush Limbaugh website (cached via Akamai).
- "Yale Bulletin and Calendar". Yale.edu. 2001-03-02. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
- Ehrenstein, David (March 19, 2007). "Obama the 'Magic Negro': The Illinois senator lends himself to white America's idealized, less-than-real black man". Los Angeles Times.
- "Drive-By Media Misreporting of "Barack the Magic Negro" Song". Transcript. RushLimbaugh.com. April 26, 2007.
- Rush Limbaugh. "Drive-By Media Misreporting of "Barack the Magic Negro" Song". "That is Reverend Sharpton through a bullhorn. It's how he came to be known, leading protests across bridges here in Manhattan and all over Harlem, and he had this bullhorn, and everything he said was through a bullhorn."
- Washington Post: "RNC Rivals Discuss Racial Song", December 28, 2008.
- Chicago Tribune: "Obama Parody Draws Fire".
- DeParle, Jason (December 27, 2008). "G.O.P. Receives Obama Parody to Mixed Reviews". New York Times.
- Hutchinson,, Earl Ofari (April 27, 2007). "Limbaugh Was Right About Obama". Huffington Post.
- Paglia, Camille (April 8, 2009). "Bow-ow-ow: Obama's painful missteps". Salon.com.
- Chafets, Zev (July 6, 2008). "Late-Period Limbaugh". New York Times.
- Yarrow, Peter, "My Response to the Mean-Spirited "Barack the Magic Negro"", The Huffington Post.
- Sinderbrand, Rebecca (December 26, 2008). "RNC chairman candidate defends 'Barack the Magic Negro' song". CNN.
- Kleinheider (January 29, 2009). "Chip Saltsman Withdraws From RNC Chairman's Race". NashvillePost.com.
- Associated Press (January 30, 2009). "Michael Steele elected RNC chairman". USA Today.
- "RNC Issues Apology to Negroes". Borowitz Report. December 29, 2008.
- CNN Reports on the Barack the Magic Negro CD Distributed by RNC Chairman Wanna' Be, December 29, 2008.
- RNC Chair Race Is All About Race, Politico, January 22, 2009.