The RNC Needs to Earn Its Ghetto Pass

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 4:02 PM PST

Would we think the whole Barack the Magic Negro brouhaha was racist if it had been an SNL production?

With all (sincere) respect to my colleague Jonathan Stein, and all the other stalwart liberals who've taken umbrage, I'm not convinced this is about racism so much as it's about chickens coming home to roost. Had the RNC/conservatives not spent the last two generations neck deep in undeniable, activist racism, they could tell a SNL-type joke now and then and get the rest of us to laugh along. We laugh at the racial parodies, and even blackface (an SNL staple) of Stewart, Colbert, Mad TV, et al, because they've proved their racial good will—if only by routinely holding the Left's (minorities included) foibles up to vicious mockery when mockery is due. In other words: Liberals have a ghetto pass. Conservatives do not.

Off the top of my head, I can think of bits every bit as harsh as the magic Negro thing:

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Exhibit A: (My beloved) Larry Willmore as the Senior Black Correspondent on the Daily Show saying something like: "I've crunched the numbers on the whole reparations thing, John." Beat. "We owe."

Exhibit B: Running bits on Mad TV with a white (Nicole Sullivan) and a black actress (Debra Wilson) playing ghetto Hispanics Lida and Melina, with heavy accents, schtupping everything that moved. Also, a running skit about Bunifa Latifa Sharifa Harifa Jackson, hoochie extraordinaire.

Exhibit C: 30 Rock, in which Tracey Morgan's character lets 'Liz Lemon' believe he's illiterate so he can goldbrick. Double satire: The show sends up a gooey 'liberalism' which is really racism, making the illiteracy of any black person not only plausible but likely and a lazy Negro taking every opportunity to avoid work. Or maybe art like this transforms a "negro" into a mere "person;" who among us hasn't taken advantage of their boss's idiocy to skip work? This is the kind of bravery and honesty that gets a nerdy white girl her very own ghetto pass.

And these are just off the top of my head.

When liberal artists mock race (and class), they mock all races and classes, including their own. They make a safe place for the rest of us to admit to our crap and how stupid it is. When conservatives do it...well, they don't mock race. They mock minorities and liberals. They're not shining a light or owning their own role in this mess, they're just reinforcing the Maginot Line protecting them from us. The more it crumbles, the more desperate they become. But the day they start mocking themselves is the day they take that first step toward their very own, shiny new ghetto pass. Then they can talk about "Magic Negroes."

Unfortunately, the best defense I've read of the much discussed CD comes from one of those conservatives. You know, those Malkin-ites who drip so much petty, impotent bile on their writings that it's often impossible to read. This one is worth wading through the tirades. (Even though he also claims I said Barack isn't black. Yawn.) What he does do is put both the CD's creation, and that of the offending track, in context. The post is long and replete with questionable conclusions (e.g. liberals are hypocrites for objecting to only one song on a 41-track CD. Huh?) but a must-read if you're following this controversy. Start with the lyrics to the song (Sharpton is the "singer"):

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
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...

There isn't a black comedian worth his salt who doesn't wish he'd written this. If this song offends you, maybe you should read the LA Times piece, written by a mixed-race black man, referred to in the song. It does an excellent job of explaining exactly what a "Magic Negro" is and why Obama most definitely is one. The RNC didn't coin the term, black academics and artists (like Spike Lee) did.

Throughout the campaign, I made that writer's same basic point: If Barack Obama had the same credentials, family and presence, but was Leroy Washington, sixth generation Harlemite with slave ancestors, none of us would know his name today and somebody white would be president. I say these things in essays and op-eds and talk shows. Satirists set them to music. Trouble is, certain satirists have no right to 'go there' and they have no one to blame but themselves.

I suggest y'all start working towards that ghetto pass.

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