--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
Sunday, December 28, 2008
--Richard E. Vatz