Sunday, December 28, 2008

Despicable Racial Slurs: President-elect Obama and Right Wing Racial Malice

--Richard E. Vatz

Despicable racial slurs are being made against President-elect Barack Obama, and they are being aided and abetted (or at least not opposed) by some mainstream conservatives and Republicans.

For almost four decades there has been a compelling conservative case made that accusations of right-wing racial bigotry were targeted unfairly at Republicans whose unpopularity among African Americans was due to the GOP’s opposition to citizens’ dependency on government and tolerance of disproportionate crime in big cities.

The current issue undermines the conservative case and is a political and rhetorical catastrophe that may already have transpired.

Here are the facts:

One of the candidates to chair the Republican National Committee, Chip Saltsman, has mailed out a music CD with the song, “Barack the Magic Negro,” a parody made famous on “The Rush Limbaugh Show.” The parody comes from a 2007 article by writer David Ehrenstein (March 19, 2007) in The Los Angeles Times. In this article Senator Obama’s presidential run represented a Rorschacht test for white Americans who want “The Magic Negro,” which Ehrenstein describes as “a figure of postmodern folk culture,” which implies an unthreatening leader who is a “noble, healing Negro.”

The title of this superficial and grotesquely incomplete sociological analysis of the meaning of Sen.Obama’s candidacy has been used as justification for parodies of Obama over the last two years.

Sorry, but as John Wayne said of some transparent self-delusion of his deputy in “Rio Bravo," “That don’t do it, Dude.”

“Barack, the Magic Negro” is a racial slur which makes race -- and only race -- the focus of ugly taunts used against the President-elect. It is uncouth, despicable, demeaning and undeserved, and whoever uses it personifies the race-baiting, ugly right-wing, a smaller and smaller group of conservatives. Candidate Saltsman’s use of this phrase should disqualify him from any public office, as should anyone else’s. This is not the principled conservatism of which so many of us are proud.

Two reactions, both quoted in The Washington Post are of note: “[F]ormer Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell defended Saltsman and attacked the media: ‘Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African American elected president,’ Blackwell, who is black, said in a statement.

I would hope that a Jewish politician would not defend crypto anti-Semitism this way. Media alarm does not represent “hypersensitivity;” it represents abhorrence of racial malice, clear and simple.

The current Republican national chairman, Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, said he was "shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate…,” and Michael Steele stated that Saltsman’s "attempt at humor was clearly misplaced,” an understandable understatement for an African-American running for RNC Chair.

The fact is that this is a real moral and political test. Republican politicians and others on the right should immediately -- and I do mean immediately; there is no need to put one’s finger to the wind -- state their outrage and revulsion at such racist rhetoric. The word “racist,” vile beliefs of racial inferiority and superiority, is overused today. Not in the case of “Obama the Magic Negro.”

Let all authentic conservatives articulate their opprobrium at the use of this utterly contemptible phrase and do it NOW.

There is no more propitious time.

Professor Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University


rick g said...

After all, if you are going to make fun of and demean, it must be a Republican woman, right?

Greg Kline said...

I am not sure using this phrase in the context described was appropriate, however, you blow right by the fact that the parody cited was just that, a parody. The point was that this objectionable term was used by liberals to describe Obama. Limbaugh, as he so often does, pointed out the hypocrisy of the left especially on issues like race. For instance, no one was beating up the Times reporter who used this line but if a conservative were to do it there would be hell to pay.

Your article only illuminates the truth of Limbaugh's parody.

Assuming the label is racist, where was your post when it was first used? Why only outrage now when it is used by a conservative?

Professor, step out of the ivory tower once in a while.

Vatz said...

Mr. Kline...Thank you for your response.

If a pro-Joe Lieberman wrote a column (indicating that the Senator defied stereotypes) titled, "Joe, the Magical Jew," and the titled were parodied repeatedly and tauntingly in song by his political opponents, you would surely not regard such action as no different in tone or intention from the original column, would you?

Richard Vatz

Daniel said...

Sorry, Doctor, but playing "what if" games doesn't cut it.

That's a rationalization and nothing more.

John Doe said...

I think you should resign as "Professor of Rhetoric." Your points amount to "It's racist because I say so." "It's despicable because I say so." "And anybody who doesn't condemn this is an idiot or worse, a racist." Learn a little logic, and use it. Tell us WHY it is "racist." Don't just give unsupported opinion.

And get over yourself. This was a funny parody based entirely upon what blacks and liberals said about Obama. It's making fun of liberals, Sharpton, and know it alls such as you who have no sense of humor.

Greg Kline said...

Your scenario misses the point.

You save your opprobrium for the conservative parody of the article, which (and I will repeat it slowly) pointed out the hypocrisy of liberals using language viewed as slurs when conservatives use it, rather than the article itself.

I am not Jewish or African-American so I am not sure of the moment of your example.

If liberal columnists could make statements which would be viewed as anti-semitic slurs if a conservative said them, I think such hypocrisy would be ripe for parody.

Now none of that means that a candidate for RNC chair should distribute a copy but legitimate satire does not rise to personifying "the race-baiting, ugly right-wing, a smaller and smaller group of conservatives"

That kind of hyperbole and vitriol reserved exclusively for those on our side of the fence sounds to me like the echoes of the faculty lounge and the liberal cocktail circuit not the reasoned and considered analysis of a conservative commentator.

P. Kenneth Burns said...

Dr. Vatz,

Assuming my Admission Application gets accepted, I have a feeling we are going to have a lot of fun beginning in Fall of 2009 or beyond if I have a class with you as a teacher. By the way, I assure you that my friend Greg Kline is a pure white guy. However he is nowhere whiter than Brian Griffiths.

All joking aside, this cuts both ways in a sense. "The Magical Negro" term was used by Jam Donaldson on her blog. She stated that while she was an Obama supporter, she was concerned that the Black community had to wait for "a magical negro" to inspire them to vote. By the way, I agreed with every word of her blog posting.

While Greg has a point as far as pointing out the parody was used by the Los Angeles Times first, I am inclined to agree with Dr. Vatz (and it has nothing to due with the academic inevitable.) One has to look at the intent and to me, the intent of Saltsman was not simply, "check out what I heard on the radio."

Remember, I'm one who says that people are too sensitive, but at the same time we have to be real. Right now, I would really ask what was he thinking in distributing the CD of the parody.

Miller Smith said...

Your position is very wrongheaded. The entire point of the song was to poke fun at Democrat hypocracy as not a single Dem or leftwinger cried foul about a leftwing paper calling Obama a Magic Negro.

Calling a black a Magic Negro is a slur against WHITES as only a Magic Negro can salve whites of their racial guilt.

Dang man, Rush did say that GOPers would form circular firing squads. Here is the perfect chance to point out the dirty racism of the left and you blame the GOP side for the Magic Negro song.

If you can't be on the team for a hypocracy free America and standards that apply to all sides, then by all means SHUT UP!

Greg Kline said...

Michelle Malkin is dead on as ususal on this.